“Reward” system pays off in restoring resource-rich but highly threatened Chico River watershed under an ADB project

April 25, 2021

The government is optimistic of a “reward” system’s success in restoring the resource-rich but threatened watershed of the Chico Upper River Basin as it carries out an Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded forest project.

   The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is arresting degradation of the forest resources of the Chico Upper River Basin (CURB), a river system in the Cordillera teeming with significant potential for electricity, irrigation, and domestic water use.

Chico River Pump Irrigation Project. Credit- NIA-CAR

   Through the Integrated Resources Environmental Management Program (INREMP), DENR has been securing the support of the community by giving them incentives for co-managing the forests.

    The “Payment for Ecosystems Services” (PES) is believed to be working out in compelling the Chico River communities to shift to agroforestry and conservation farming.

   The PES is an incentive system given to farmers and indigenous people in the watersheds for sustaining their ancestral lands that can produce valued economic and ecological products.    

   Among these products of nature are crops, livestock, aquaculture fisheries; fiber (timber, cotton, silk); genetic resources (biochemical, pharmaceuticals); fresh water, air, climate regulation, erosion control, and even health and recreation as defined by the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment.

   “This will provide incentives for indigenous peoples and resource-poor communities to help reduce and reverse degradation of watersheds.  It will also provide incentives to local government units and DENR for improving natural resource management,” said DENR.

    INREMP has three other priority river basins for forest management.

   These are the Wahig-Inabanga River Basin in Region 7 (Cebu City); Upper Bukidnon River Basin; and Lake Lanao River Basin in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, according to DENR.

The winding Chico River straddling across Mt Province, Ifugao Kalinga, Apayao

   These watersheds are critical due to the  kaingin or deforestation activities of illegal intruders or the same people living in the area. 

   However, the PES is enabling DENR and partners like the World Agroforestry to turn people around in favour of adopting nature-friendly farming practices and forest management.

   ADB has allocated a restructured loan amount of $57 million for INREMP, according to DENR. It is receiving a grant of $2.5 million from the Global Environment Facility.

   The Chico river basin has been hounded by environmental problems.

   Among these are conversion of mossy forest in Mt. Data to vegetable gardens; decreasing water discharge due to drying up of water sources; destruction of biodiversity due to kaingin, illegal cutting, forest fires and chemical pollution; river siltation due to soil erosion and landslides; water pollution from households.

   Nevertheless, it has the potential for tourism with water rafting activities. The rice terraces in Kalinga is touted to become a rice granary for premium organic rice as the Chico River supplies water for irrigating its big rice lands.

   With Chico River there, the Mt Province itself is a watershed known to produce high value crops including legumes/beans, carrots, root crops.

   Over 200,000 hectares of protected area in the four river basins have been monitored for sustainability. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

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