Have you ever considered the impacts of climate change on our environment and natural resources? It wasn't until we faced numerous disasters that we were made aware of the critical state of our planet. A striking example in the Philippines was in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Super Typhoon Yolanda, caused massive flooding, landslides and storm surges in the Eastern Visayas region resulting in over 6,000 fatalities (Relief Web, 2013).
The country has since taken steps to mitigate the effects of climate change on our environment. Globally, the urgency to protect biodiversity has become increasingly apparent, prompting creative actions and solutions towards conservation.
For over 50 years, Haribon Foundation has been leading conservation projects towards fulfilling this goal. This year, the environmental non-profit has established Community Ecological Sanctuaries (CES) at Barangay Sooc in Lupi, Camarines Sur; Barangay Villa Maria Aurora in Aurora Province; and Barangay Villarica in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija. CES is one of the components of the EMPOWER project where HARIBON’s community partners are made active participants in the management and development of sanctuaries. This approach not only allows them to take part in forest restoration, but it also helps create biodiversity champions with a deep understanding on the importance of protecting natural ecosystems and their diversity of life.
Establishing CES at the EMPOWER sites
In the first two months of 2023, HARIBON laid the groundwork for the Engaging Multi-stakeholder Participation Towards Ecosystem Restoration for Community Resiliency (EMPOWER) project concurrent with the establishment of CES. Members of the team were deployed to their assigned project sites in the Aurora Province, Nueva Ecija and the Bicol Region. To kickstart the project, community organizing efforts began immediately, with simultaneous coordination between HARIBON, different barangays, and potential People's Organization (PO) partners. Formal PO endorsements were then sought from the Barangay and Municipal local government units (LGUs) to ensure the commitment of all stakeholders towards the community ecological sanctuaries.
The EMPOWER project was presented to the Barangay Local Government Unit (BLGU) of Villa Maria Aurora in February 2023, where they discussed the formal adoption of the CES and forest restoration project through a resolution. By the month of July, zealous efforts to finalize and issue the much-awaited Barangay Resolution for the Aurora Memorial National Park (AMNP), Villa Aurora site’s CES came to fruition. Meanwhile, at the Bicol Natural Park (BNP), a suitable CES site was identified in March. By June, the EMPOWER project coordinators paid site visits to its BNP PO partner, Sooc Sagip Gubat at Buhay Organization (SSGBO), providing them assistance and coaching regarding nursery activities.
Seedling production is a vital aspect of establishing a CES. It enables the cultivation of a diverse range of plant species, including indigenous and rare plants. By growing these seedlings, HARIBON is able to contribute in the restoration and conservation of local biodiversity with the area. At AMNP, the EMPOWER project staff worked hand in hand with the Samahan ng Katutubong Alta sa Villa Aurora Chapter, regularly checking on the progress of their seedling production efforts. Project Coordinator Shalimar Ilejay visited the nursery in July, which showed promising progress. The ultimate goal of achieving 2,500 seedlings for planting at the restoration site during the rainy season necessitated continuous monitoring and production.
What is at the core of a Community Ecological Sanctuary?
The use of CES is an innovative approach to environmental conservation. They are designated zones within local communities, particularly within barangays where people can participate in, learn about, and contribute to preserving biodiversity. By creating these sanctuaries, communities can work together to protect and conserve their local environments. Its vision, which is to turn conservation into a community activity, enables opportunities for all members, regardless of age, gender, or background, to partake in environmental initiatives, strengthening a sense of responsibility over their shared home.
With increased participation and awareness among community members, such as children, youth, women, and indigenous people on the importance of protecting ecosystems, their combined efforts become more meaningful and creates a deeper sustainable impact. This sense of volunteerism is the driving force behind CES. The EMPOWER project included several engaging activities such as nurturing seedlings of endemic or threatened forest tree species. These seedlings are later planted in Protected Areas (PAs), allowing a hands-on approach for volunteers to bring back forests and learn to care more for the environment over time. Such activities fosters a connection to nature and helps them understand how crucial forests are for keeping a rich variety of life and a healthy environment that benefits people as well.
The advantages of CES
Community Ecological Sanctuaries provide a host of benefits to the communities where they are established, such as:
- A Learning Environment: CES serves as a hands-on, immersive learning platform where individuals can acquire knowledge about biodiversity, ecosystems, and conservation practices through direct engagement with nature. This learning experience is invaluable as it develops both awareness as well as love and respect for nature. One of the ways in which CES contributes to educational opportunities is by partnering with schools and community organizations, creating opportunities for students of all ages to engage in activities where they can study about nature, ecology, biodiversity, and the significance of preserving natural habitats. One hands-on activity for students is tree planting. There are also guided tours within CES, which can create immersive learning environments where visitors and students are introduced to various plant species and where they can take part in discussions on topics such as climate change, plant care, the state of Philippine forests, and forest conservation.
- Community Empowerment: The sanctuaries allow local communities to become involved and play their part in looking after their environment. This active role helps encourage their sense of responsibility for their local environment and continue conservation efforts even after HARIBON’s interventions.
- Community Engagement: CES brings together people from all walks of life to work towards a common goal. This communal effort for environmental conservation creates a sense of unity, interconnectedness, and establishes a shared purpose and responsibility among members. This in turn makes the bond between communities stronger and makes them more cooperative.
Sustainable Resource Management: The sanctuaries teach people how to live in a way that's beneficial for the environment while also creating an understanding that what we do to nature affects both the environment’s and people’s health. CES are reminders to take a more mindful approach to the use of finite resources. This understanding then encourages individuals to adopt eco-friendly practices, such as recycling, reducing waste, composting, and an overall wiser and more sustainable lifestyle, which also contributes to long-term environmental health.
The creation of CES at Barangay Sooc, Lupi; Barangay Villarica, Pantabangan, and Barangay Villa Maria Aurora, Aurora Province are big steps forward in the effort to restore and protect forests, which is at the heart of the EMPOWER project. These efforts are not only aimed towards the conservation of plants, animals, and their habitats, but they are also intent on uplifting the lives of people in these areas.
The EMPOWER forest restoration project is funded by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).
Note: The Nam-Namma Farmers Association (NNFA) was the final PO partner for PCWFR in Year 1 of the project.