The EMPOWER Forest Restoration Project Year 1 has come to a close, and the impact on partner organizations, stakeholders, and the NGCP has been significant.
The Engaging Multi-Stakeholder Participation Towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER) project was launched by Haribon Foundation in July 2022, with funding from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and support from other stakeholders. Aimed at creating resilient communities through collaboration in restoring forest ecosystems, the project team achieved their Year 1 targets. Simultaneous with forest restoration activities, stakeholders were empowered through capacity building and provision of additional livelihood.
Accomplishments contributed to the eventual ecological stability of the planted sites, which are part of the project’s 3-year implementation plan and objectives.
EMPOWER focused on four key areas:
- Forest restoration and management
- Community engagement and capacity building
- Biodiversity conservation
- Sustainable livelihoods
It covers three Protected Areas (PAs), namely the Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP), the Bicol Natural Park (BNP), and the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve (PCWFR). These sites are important for biodiversity conservation as they are home to many threatened and endemic species. Five hectares of forest areas were planted in each project site, with each one having its own people’s organization (PO) partner actively involved and trained in executing forest restoration and management activities.
Impact on Partner Organizations
EMPOWER was able to cultivate strong partnerships and relationships with organizations like the Sooc Sagip Gubat at Buhay Organization (SSGBO), the Samahan ng Katutubong Alta sa Villa Aurora Chapter (SKAVA), and the Nam-Namma Farmers Association (NNFA). These POs worked hand in hand with the project team to ensure the success and sustainability of this inspiring endeavor. Through trainings and workshops, partner communities not only gained the ability to make a meaningful impact on their environment, but they also benefited from gaining new skills and knowledge on forest restoration that opened up sustainable livelihood and economic opportunities. For instance, EMPOWER covered the fees that the communities needed to produce indigenous trees and seedlings in nurseries. Resources to plant these seedlings at their designated sites and perform regular maintenance and quarterly monitoring of the trees are also provided by the project. Additionally, POS are given incentives for the production and planting of fruit trees which they could also use as additional income source.
Their newfound expertise have clearly enhanced their effectiveness and efficiency in managing restoration areas. According to a representative from Maluyon Indigenous Christian Farmers Association (MICFA), one of the stakeholders in PCWFR, "Collaboration has allowed us to learn from one another, share our challenges, and work together as a team." Moreover, the project created a spirit of collaboration between government agencies and local community groups. Through regular meetings and consultations, these organizations were able to experience and take part in the project every step of the way, and develop strategies to achieve its objectives together. This participative and consultative approach has led to a coordinated and systematic implementation of activities.
An emphasis on practices such as using native tree species for reforestation and involving local communities have laid the foundation for EMPOWER’s more sustainable approach to forest restoration. This attention on balanced and ecological methods by HARIBON eventually helped the POs identify the appropriate livelihood that best matched their resources, like the production of indigenous seedlings in the nurseries. They can opt to become seedling suppliers for HARIBON’s other restoration projects. They also have the option to sell these seedlings to individuals looking to plant native trees. A member of SKAVA expressed gratitude, stating, "The project has been a game-changer for our organization. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other organizations towards restoring forests and improving our livelihoods."
Government support has also been essential towards fulfilling EMPOWER objectives. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DA), and local government units (LGUs) have all stepped up to promote and support the project. By collaborating with EMPOWER, the LGUs were making sure that the forest restoration activities align with their plans for development. This ensures that the project's efforts complement the community's overall goals and objectives, which maximizes the benefits for both the PAs and people living in and near them.
Influence on NGCP
The EMPOWER project successfully promoted the crucial cause of forest restoration and conservation to local communities and other stakeholders. This has not only raised awareness about the importance of preserving forests and biodiversity, but has also increased NGCP's reputation as a socially responsible company committed to environmental preservation.
Moreover, the project played an influential role in helping NGCP meet environmental regulations and standards. By supporting EMPOWER, the corporation has taken a major step in realizing the DENR’s National Greening Program (NGP), which is the country's most ambitious reforestation program to date seeking to restore 8.6 million hectares of degraded forests in the Philippines by 2028. This involvement demonstrates the NGCP's contribution to environmental sustainability and government conservation programs.
These performance metrics and their outcomes can largely be attributed to the strong partnership between Haribon Foundation, NGCP, and other stakeholders, as well as the active involvement of local communities.
- Tree Planting: EMPOWER set out to restore denuded forest areas in the provinces of Aurora, Camarines Sur, and Nueva Ecija. In just one year, an impressive 7,500 trees were successfully planted, making significant progress toward the project's goals.
- Forest Cover: The end goal is to restore 5 hectares of degraded forest areas in each site - AMNP, PCWFR, and BNP. By the end of the year, these planted seedlings will begin to mature into trees that will eventually ensure the full restoration of the forests.
- Community Participation: Encouraging local communities to actively engage in restoration efforts and promote sustainable forest management was a crucial objective for the team. By the end of Year 1, the project successfully involved target community members, signifying a positive and meaningful level of community participation.
- Partner Organizations and Stakeholders: Building partnerships with various organizations and stakeholders was vital for achieving the project's objectives. By the end of the first year, several successful partnerships were established including LGUs and community-based organizations, demonstrating the collaborative efforts accomplished by all parties.
EMPOWER has successfully completed its first year, achieving remarkable progress towards its objectives. However, the journey is far from over, as there is still much to be done to ensure its long-term success and impact on partner organizations, stakeholders, and the NGCP. Looking ahead, the project will prioritize key areas that will shape its future direction and impact.
Firstly, close collaboration with local communities will remain a top priority. The project will continue to engage residents in the restoration process by providing additional training and support. Moreover, efforts will be made to help them develop sustainable livelihoods aligned with the project's restoration goals. This holistic approach aims to enable and involve communities at every step of the journey.
Secondly, maintaining a strong partnership with the NGCP will be crucial. This will require consistent communication, collaboration, and rigorous monitoring to gauge the project's influence on the corporation’s activities.
The EMPOWER project is poised to make significant strides in the years to come. With continuous support from local communities, the government, and the NGCP, this initiative has the potential to leave a lasting impact on the restoration of the Philippines' forests and the conservation of its precious natural resources.