64,498 hectare forest management area in Chico River turns in livelihood opportunities in coffee, wine enterprises for IPs

July 20, 2021

A 64,498 hectare forest management area originally conceived to protect the watersheds of the Upper Chico River Basin has turned in coffee and wine enterprises for the indigenous people (IP) in farflung Mt. Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Apayao.

   As the project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Chico River Basin is about to be completed, a sustainable plan is now being drafted to ensure IPs will continue to thrive in their newfound livelihood.

   A revenue-sharing scheme will be a major component of the sustainable program now being mapped by DENR, according to Marilyn Malecdan, regional project coordinator of the Chico River project.

   “The revenue will make sure a PO (people’s organization) member gets his share from whatever activity he contributes such as growing seedlings.  But the government also wants to earn from its management of the natural resource,” said Malecdan.

Agro-forestry farming in slopes that produce food and eliminate soil erosion

   The Chico River is one of the four river basins aimed to be protected and preserved under DENR’s Integrated Resources Environmental Management Program (INREMP).  

   “Chico River Basin has vast potentials for development.  It has potential for electric power, irrigation, domestic purposes, and recreation. The river harnesses the major irrigation systems to water its vast rice lands. As a result, Kalinga has been promoted as a rice granary of the region,” said Engr. Ralph C. Pablo, INREMP-CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region) project director.

   While environmental protection is the primary aim, INREMP has successfully generated livelihood for the upland residents.

Through collaboration with other agenciees like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Agriculture (DA), the people’s organization (PO) partners are able to process and market their coffee. The DENR project provided them with coffee dehullers, roasters, grinders, and other packaging tools.  

Special Arabica coffee made by Indigenous People of Cordillera

     The people also now produce muscovado sugar, wine from various fruits such as Bignay, and of course rice and corn. Provision of rice mills, hand tractors, and multi-purpose pavement for drying products made the lives of farmers in far flung communities of the Cordillera easier.

Sugarcane wine produced by Indigenous People

      “Our rural infrastructure projects have greatly helped them in transporting their products.  With our project we’re able to help people in the farflung areas that used to be inaccessible (due to mountain barriers),” she said.

   INREMP’s rural infrastructure support, in partnership also with Department of Agriculture, includes rehabilitated access roads of 42.32 kilometers  and a foot trail of 10,000 meters. 

  The infrastructure support helped the natives of Cordillera to cut on hauling costs and increase productivity of the lands. Also, women were freed from the burden of fetching water from far communal water sources.    

   INREMP has so far established 3,701 hectares of reforestation area (deforested but replanted) and 5,056 hectares of agroforestry (vegetable and fruit crops with dipterocarp trees planted).    

   Tree species planted include narra, Benguet pine, and dipterocarp trees (broad-leafed, lowland tropical trees) such as white lauan.

   It has also established a total of 6,533 hectares of assisted natural regeneration area — naturally-growing young trees (regenerants) that are cleaned and trimmed. The areas are supported to grow trees with ring weeding,  thinning to avoid crowding, fertilizer application, and planting of open spaces. 

   A separate 955 hectares of commercial tree plantation (CTP) have been grown by the IPs using fast-growing tree species such as Benguet pine, Gmelina and Mahogany (harvestable from eight to 20 years).

   An area called conservation farming —  where contouring and other agro-forestry techniques are used to eliminate soil erosion in sloping areas – now total to 690 hectares.

   With the CTP, the IPs are able to generate construction materials for their own needs such as for housing and do not have to illegally cut trees.

Intercropping of coconut, rambutan, and banana in the sloping Cordillera mountains

   “Mt. Province has become the home to high value crops yielding legumes/beans, carrots, root crops and other cash crops. White water rafting along the Chico River is another potential attracting local as well as foreign tourists. There are still untapped prospects that include gold, sulfur, copper, gypsum, clay and gravel and other quarry resources,” said Pablo.

   INREMP is co-financed by the Asian Development Bank.    ADB has allocated a restructured loan amount of $57 million for INREMP.  INREMP  is receiving a grant of $2.5 million from the Global Environment Facility. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

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