Haribon Foundation and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) are rewriting the playbook for environmental stewardship and community resilience in the pursuit of sustainable development and the preservation of our natural resources. The partnership between HARIBON and NGCP stands as a shining example of organizations working together for a sustainable future.
Their journey began with a mutual understanding that success is not solely marked by profitability, but by fostering meaningful impact on local communities and the environment. NGCP, a corporation that helps light millions of homes across the Philippines. They saw an opportunity to help ensure ecological stability and empower local communities within their operational areas.
Meanwhile, Haribon Foundation, a stalwart in nature conservation, was on the lookout for partners that shared their commitment to participatory sustainable actions. When they presented their proposal for the EMPOWER project, NGCP saw a chance to extend their corporate responsibilities beyond their business mandate and so, a unique partnership was born.
In July 2022, Haribon Foundation launched Engaging Multi-stakeholder Participation Towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER), a Forest Restoration Project funded by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines. With a shared goal to conserve natural resources and provide sustainable solutions, the two organizations partnered up to promote sustainable local development and restore significant portions of three (3) Protected Areas (PA) in the Philippines that have NGCP transmission facilities:
- The Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve (PCWFR) in Nueva Ecija
- The Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP) in Aurora, and
- The Bicol Natural Park (BNP) in Camarines Sur
Our Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) states that the Philippines has lost almost 93 percent of our original forest cover since the 1900’s (Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities [PBCP], 2002), and our country has continued to lose a significant amount of its forest cover over the past decades. The Forest Management Bureau (FMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) declared that the country’s forest cover encompasses only 24.09% of the country’s 30 million hectares of total land area.
The loss of forest cover has been causing several devastating consequences for Filipinos including:
- Increased soil erosion and landslides
- Depletion of water resources
- Loss of biodiversity and livelihoods. In 2008, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data List of Threatened Species included the Philippines’ 58 out of 206 then known mammal species native to the country – a significantly large number, considering that more than half of our native mammalian species are endemic.
- Increased vulnerability to climate change
Importance of Protected Areas (PA)
HARIBON’s forest restoration strategy goes hand in hand with the careful selection of sites to reforest. It is critical to the sustainability of HARIBON projects to choose Protected Areas (PAs) in collaboration with DENR to ensure that reforested sites stay forests in perpetuity and that their sole purpose is to maintain the ecological balance of an ecosystem.
A PA is a designated area of land or water that has been set aside for the conservation of nature because of its important contribution to biodiversity and to the country’s natural resources including the preservation of cultural values. These PAs can be national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and nature reserves (Suratman, 2018).
With the EMPOWER Project and with HARIBON’s other Forest Restoration projects, they are often implemented in PAs because these areas offer a number of several advantages. First, PAs are typically located in areas with high biodiversity. This means that reforestation projects in these areas can help to restore important habitats and species. Second, they are often managed by government agencies together with all the members of a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), which means that there is often a strong commitment to conservation in these areas.
There are a number of ways that PAs can be used to support Forest Restoration projects. Protected areas can be used to:
- Provide a source of seeds and seedlings for reforestation projects
- Provide a haven for plants and animals that are being reforested
- Provide a space for research and education about reforestation
HARIBON and NGCP’s EMPOWER project is expected to contribute meaningfully to the environment and the lives of local communities such that:
- Increased forest cover will help improve water quality and supply, prevent severe damages from natural hazards, and mitigate the effects of climate change;
- Sustainable economic opportunities for local communities will be created and provided;
- A citizen-based ecosystem monitoring and reporting system will ensure consistent and sustained conservation actions; and
- The establishment of Community Ecological Sanctuaries (CES) will encourage deeper environmental awareness and shall inspire continuous environmental stewardship of community
To ensure the successful restoration and protection of the project sites while simultaneously allowing NGCP to continue providing reliable electric transmission to the Philippines, HARIBON and NGCP must work together to improve the quality of life of the local communities dependent on these ecosystems. Adopting Rainforestation Technology as a method of forest restoration is one way to lessen the issue of deforestation in the country.
Rainforestation (RF) is a more holistic approach used by HARIBON in restoring degraded forest areas than the traditional reforestation. This approach involves the planting of native tree species as well as promoting the use of those commonly grown in the area. A holistic approach allows forests to become more sustainable and diversified when local trees are planted instead of foreign species because it is more likely to recreate an ecosystem that resembles the original state of the forest. For more than a decade, HARIBON has been using RF and this approach has led to a 90% survival rate of native tree species.
RF also uses a community-based strategy which is effective in providing livelihood options to community partners in remote areas. The approach led to the creation of programs that cover the costs associated with growing native trees and seedlings in nurseries, planting them on-site, maintaining them regularly (every three months), and providing incentives to communities for growing and planting of fruit trees.
HARIBON has completed the Rainforestation (RF) Technology Trainings with the community partners at the 3 project sites. This will be an essential component of their capacity building. Part of the training involves establishing nurseries that supply the required number of native trees for the PAs in each site.
With the EMPOWER Forest Restoration Project being a public-private partnership between Haribon Foundation, NGCP, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Local Government Units (LGUs), we are now working with the following Barangays, Municipal LGUs, and People’s Organizations (PO) Partners:
- At the BNP:
- PO Partner: The Sooc Sagip Gubat at Buhay Organization (SSGBO), an organization that assists communities with livelihood projects such as agricultural and agri-based business
- LGU Partner: Barangay Sooc, Municipality of Lupi, Province of Camarines Sur
- At AMNP:
- Year 1 PO Partner: Samahan ng Katutubong Alta sa Villa Aurora Chapter (SKAVCA), a community-based organization that represents the indigenous peoples of Villa Aurora, Aurora
- Year 1 LGU Partner: Barangay Villa Aurora, Municipality of Maria Aurora, Province of Maria Aurora
- Year 2 PO Partner: Diteki Sunrise Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multipurpose Cooperative (DSARBMC) or Sunrise Farmers Association, a community-based organization representing the farmers of Diteki
- Year 2 LGU Partner: Barangay Diteki, Municipality of San Luis, Province of Aurora
- Year 3 PO Partner: Samahan ng Lingap sa Kalikasan ng Barangay Labi, Bongabon, Nueva Ecija Chapter (SLKBLBN), a community-based organization representing the residents of Labi
- Year 3 LGU Partner: Barangay Labi, Municipality of Bongabon, Province of Nueva Ecija
- At the PCWFR:
- PO Partner: There are 3 potential PO partners. HARIBON is awaiting an endorsment from the LGU.
- LGU Partner: Barangay Villarica, Municpality of Pantabangan, Province of Nueva Ecija
The project intends to promote local development and conservation efforts in the barangays that have NGCP transmission facilities. Through EMPOWER, HARIBON and NGCP will work together to protect and conserve the environment, improve the quality of life for local communities, and provide reliable electric transmission service to the Philippines.
EMPOWER is focused on conservation and sustainable development, rather than profitability. Its success will be measured by the extent to which it achieves both organizations’ missions, which is intertwined to provide benefits for the local communities and the environment. NGCP provides the funding and HARIBON provides the technical expertise, while DENR provides the regulatory oversight.
Based on a shared ambition to conserve our natural resources and provide sustainable solutions, the overall goal of the project is to contribute to improving the forest cover in each project site to help sustain the available supply of water, clean air, reliable electric power supply, and protection from the catastrophic impacts of super typhoons.
The objectives of the project for the next three years are to:
- Contribute to improving the forest cover in each project site. This will help to sustain an available supply of water, clean air, reliable electric power supply, and protection from the catastrophic impacts of typhoons.
- Establish Community Ecological Sanctuary (CES) in each project site. This will promote environmental awareness, community empowerment, and volunteerism.
- Assist in the additional provision of livelihood opportunities for local communities.
- Establish a citizen-based ecosystem monitoring and reporting system in the three project sites.
Initial coordination meetings with site offices were critical in the beginning of the project. There were scheduled face-to-face meetings with the DENR and LGU offices for each of the sites to introduce the project goals and secure the necessary permits. Getting the PAMB resolution for each location was key. These resolutions gave HARIBON the green light to move forward.
Key Milestones of the Project
The key milestones of the project include delineation and mapping of restoration sites, assessment of mother trees, rapid flora assessment, and soil analysis.
Delineation and Mapping of Restoration Sites
The project kicked off with the delineation and mapping of the restoration sites. This task was carried out in collaboration with the Protected Area Management Office (PAMO), which possesses the authority to identify suitable areas for restoration. The process saw a composite team from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), local government units (LGUs), and HARIBON conducting the site delineation activities. Mapping of the sites was completed with the cooperation of PAMO offices, who provided the control/database maps.
Mother Trees Site Assessment
The team conducted a comprehensive assessment of the mother trees within the project sites, to evaluate their current condition and potential for seeding. This activity involved detailed inspection and documentation of various species, such as Lithocarpus S
Rapid Flora Assessment
A rapid flora assessment was carried out to understand the current diversity of plants at the restoration sites. This gives a baseline for future comparisons and documentation. It also helps understand the site’s resilience to stresses such as climate change. The assessment involved data gathering on species diversity at the site, using diversity indices such as the Shannon-Weiner Index.
Soil analysis was performed at the sites to gather valuable information about the soil quality. This aids in nutrient management and reveals the current soil pH level, which is important for plant/tree growth. The goal of managing soil pH is to adjust the acidity to a level where there are no toxic metals exposed to the plants, ensuring that nutrient availability is at its maximum level.
Community Organizing and Establishment of Community Ecological Sanctuary (CES)
HARIBON dispatched project staff to the 3 project sites after securing field offices and asked for formal PO endorsements from the barangay and municipal local government units. The project components include the piloting and establishment of Community Ecological Sanctuaries or CES in each project site at the barangay level. The establishment of a CES is intended to raise awareness of the public and civil society organizations about conserving biodiversity and will be a venue for volunteerism. It also serves as a living laboratory for different conservation activities, and a learning center for biodiversity.
Further, significant strides in strengthening the capacities of the EMPOWER project site staff and partner stakeholders illustrate the project’s commitment to fostering a knowledgeable and capable team, equipped with the right skills and understanding to carry out the project’s ambitious conservation goals effectively.
Training of Trainers (ToT) on Rainforestation Technology
The project staff underwent an intensive ToT on Rainforestation Technology which took place on January 18-19, 2023, at Caliraya Eco Ville Recreation Farm and Resort in Cavinti, Laguna. Practical applications were conducted at HARIBON’s Buhay Punlaan Nursery in Barangay Lewin, Lumban Laguna. The training sessions covered topics on Ecology and Ecosystem, Philippine Biodiversity, Philippine Tropical Rainforests, Rainforestation Technology, and Forest Fire Prevention and Suppression.
RF Training of Partner Stakeholders in AMNP
Following the ToT, a Rainforestation Training for partner stakeholders in Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP) was conducted on March 22-23, 2023. This training was participated by representatives from 3 partner Peoples’ Organizations, municipal and barangay officials, staff, and key officials from DENR-PENRO Aurora and DENR-CENRO Cabanatuan. The same set of modules covered in the ToT was delivered to the participants by the EMPOWER site staff along with Forester Thaddeus Martinez.
Working Towards Sustainable Progress
Through the harmonious synergy of HARIBON and NGCP, this initiative has showcased the remarkable outcomes that can arise when private enterprises join hands with conservation champions. By engaging local communities and government bodies, they have not only revitalized landscapes but also fortified the foundations of sustainable progress.
With the EMPOWER project, HARIBON and NGCP are proving that when private corporations align with conservation organizations, they can create powerful ripples of change. The tangible results of this endeavor remind us that it is not merely about restoring forests, it is about restoring hope for a more sustainable greener future.