Date released
28 August 2018

By Andrew Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, ACIAR

I’ve been involved with landcare in Australia in various ways for well over thirty years. As National Landcare Facilitator, I visited landcare groups and documented great landcare projects all over the Australian continent, in an era when more than half of all Australian farming families were involved in landcare. 

But I’ve rarely seen anything as inspiring in terms of transformative action at a grassroots community level – building social capital and delivering social, economic and environmental benefits incredibly efficiently – as I saw last week in Bohol, in the Philippines.

Landcare in the Philippines started in the mid-1990s as a result of farmer concern about massive soil erosion in the uplands of Claveria (northern Mindanao) where soil losses ranged from 50-300 tonnes per hectare every year, translating into reduced crop yields of 0.2 to 0.5 tonnes/ha/year.

In response, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), drawing on lessons from the emerging landcare movement in Australia, organised teams of researchers/facilitators, municipal agricultural extension officers and leading farmers to assist other farmers in implementing conservation technologies such as the development of natural vegetative strips (NVS). These are narrow contour strips of unploughed land with grasses and herbs (or other deliberately-grown plants such as bananas and pineapples) left intact to serve as buffers to control runoff and reduce soil erosion. Relatively cheap and easy to establish and maintain, NVS became popular with Claveria farmers.

ACIAR became involved through the Australia-Philippines Landcare Program from 1999 through a succession of projects[1] in the ASEM, Agribusiness, Horticulture, Soil and Land Management and now Social Sciences programs. The focus has broadened from natural resource management (NRM) to encompass all aspects of people’s livelihoods including health, income cash flow, access to markets and education. Landcare influenced the attitudes and practices of farmers, policymakers, local governments and communities, and has grown to involve more than 8,000 farmers and more than 60 research, government, non-government and academic agencies across more than 20 municipalities in the Philippines provinces of conflict-vulnerable Mindanao and Visayas. 

HE Amanda Gorely with members of the Australia-Philippines Alumni Association inspecting some of Cipriano’s beans.
HE Amanda Gorely with members of the Australia-Philippines Alumni Association inspecting some of Cipriano’s beans.

ACIAR’s support for Philippines landcare includes strengthening the Landcare Foundation of the Philippines Inc (LFPI), which in extending the results of various ACIAR projects, amplifies the impact of our research investments. This work was evaluated by Noel Vock [4] in 2012, who found that more than 65% of Pilar farmers at core landcare sites were maintaining ongoing involvement in agroforestry; at least 25% of farmers who trialled planting vegetables first at a backyard level had moved into commercial vegetable production; and in Pilar, the 198 small sitio-based landcare groups formed under the PILAR DAM component of the project are all still active. Similarly, Rob Cramb and colleagues[2] found that landcare (especially where it involved hands-on training) markedly increased adoption of conservation farming in Claveria compared with ‘conventional’ extension methods.

I was broadly aware that the Philippines was one of the success stories of Landcare internationally, and ACIAR has produced several excellent publications[3], but nothing beats seeing it first hand and meeting the people involved. What we saw this week was truly inspiring. 

Accompanied by the Australian Ambassador to The Philippines HE Amanda Gorely, our terrific ACIAR Country Office staff Mai Alagcan and Mara Faylon, RPM Dr Jayne Curnow, RMIT researchers Dr Mary Johnson and Noel Vock, LFPI Coordinator (and current John Dillon Fellow) Evy Carusos, University of the Philippines lecturer (also current JDF) Shang Fuentes and other LPFI staff and board members, we inspected landcare work around Pilar, in central Bohol, Visayas.

Pilar’s Malinao Dam is the biggest dam in the province, supplying irrigation systems for rice production in five municipalities. In 2006, the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM of the Department of Agriculture) estimated that the dam’s lifespan was likely to be halved to 40 years due to heavy siltation from the upland catchment. At the time, conventional cassava farming practices involved ploughing up and down the slope, leading to heavy soil losses and decreasing agriculturalproductivity (main source of livelihoods) and indirectly affecting household nutrition in Pilar. In some areas, production had declined to the extent that people were no longer farming the uplands.

Through landcare, all key officers of the Pilar Local Government (from the Mayor to agricultural extension officers) and select farmers were able to visit and directly learn from their counterparts in Claveria. Pilar’s Municipal Planning and Development Officer also participated in an Australian Landcare exposure trip funded by ACIAR. Through these activities and support of Bohol-based landcare facilitators, the local government developed the PILAR DAM Program, founded on the landcare approach. 

Barangay Farmer Technicians (BAFTechs in orange shirts) with (front row left) Jayne Curnow, Henry Binahon (President LFPI), Noel Vock & Mary Johnson.
Barangay Farmer Technicians (BAFTechs in orange shirts) with (front row left) Jayne Curnow, Henry Binahon (President LFPI), Noel Vock & Mary Johnson.

 The program initially supported each of 5,000 households in Pilar to plant at least one hill with five different types of vegetables. Through the years, this has expanded to include backyard fruit and herb production as well as livestock, enabling families to improve their food security, health and livelihoods through more intense and diversified vegetable production.

The local government’s six extension officers and 189 BAFTECHs (Barangay Farmer Technicians) work together to help households to implement the various components of the program. In 2016, Pilar was recognised by the National Nutrition Council for its efforts in reducing the incidence of malnutrition. Sedimentation rates of Pilar Dam have declined substantially, thus extending the useful life of the dam.

We visited the farm of Cipriano Curiba, a tenant farmer who moved from rice to diversified vegetable production. According to Cipriano, he has earned at least PhP 9,000 (AUD$230) per week this cropping season, and vegetable traders now come to him. The extra income has enabled Cipriano and his wife to extend their house and to provide education to their son, now a licensed forester. They have also been able to reduce risks thanks to a more diversified cropping portfolio.

We had lunch with and inspected the amazing produce of the members of the San Carlos Vegetable Growers Association (see pics below), who are practitioners of the landcare approach and have undertaken season-long training on integrated vegetable management.

Due in large part to the additional food being grown, sold and consumed locally, according to the mayor the level of poverty in the Pilar municipality has more than halved over the last decade. It is noteworthy that the landcare program has been strongly supported by three successive mayors, and now appears to be an established element of the social infrastructure in Pilar municipality.

This inspiring example of grassroots community landcare delivering substantial benefits for livelihoods, nutrition and the environment is a reminder of the importance and value of the social dimensions of landcare as a participatory research and extension approach. Landcare foments social cohesion by building social capital (in both its ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ dimensions), influencing social norms, empowering local leaders and delivering clear benefits at a community level from people working together. 

This has obvious relevance in conflict-vulnerable areas like Mindanao, which is partly why ACIAR’s landcare work in the Philippines is so strongly supported by PCAARRD – the Philippines Council for Agriculture, Aquaculture and Natural Resources Research and Development. An ACIAR impact assessment[4] found that landcare in the Philippines led to markedly higher rates of adoption of improved farming practices compared with conventional extension approaches.

At a macro level, while landcare has lost momentum in some regions in Australia[5], I remain convinced that participatory group approaches to sustainable agriculture and NRM at a community level, coupled with complementary citizen science and school education programs, are important elements of resilient governance for the Anthropocene. 

The amazing Chocolate Hills in central Bohol, shaped by differential weathering of the ancient limestone seabed.
The amazing Chocolate Hills in central Bohol, shaped by differential weathering of the ancient limestone seabed.

 Rapid, often surprising, on-going environmental change will challenge governments, industries and communities, especially smallholder farmers, in all regions. Many responses (proactive and reactive) need to be designed and/or interpreted at sub-national and local levels. Successful and durable land restoration depends on community support and, often, community engagement. Finally, policy convergence in food, water, energy and health systems (all with risks amplified by climate change) requires an integrated planning & delivery framework, with decentralised leadership and decision-making. Social capital becomes ever more important as ‘solutions’ become ever more contested and contextual.

I came away from Bohol thinking that we had just been exposed to the essence of landcare in a distilled form – driven from and led by the grassroots, with extremely high levels of community participation and support, tailored to local needs and circumstances, with government and science at higher levels playing an enabling rather than directing role.

Variations on the landcare theme are evolving in more than twenty countries. An ACIAR Social Sciences project, led by Dr Mary Johnson of RMIT and Clinton Muller from RM Consulting Group, is exploring the potential for landcare approaches to be applied more broadly, in our work and beyond.

Who knows? Maybe one day landcare might be recognised alongside WiFi, Cochlear, Gardasil and the black box flight recorder as an Australian innovation of global significance.


[1]   ASEM/1998/052: Enhancing farmer adoption of simple conservation practices – Landcare in the Philippines and Australia;

ASEM/2002/051: Sustaining and growing landcare systems in the Philippines and Australia

ASEM/2009/044: Enhancing development outcomes for smallholder farmers through closer collaboration between Landcare and other ACIAR projects;

ASEM/2011/061: Institutional mentoring of the Landcare Foundation of the Philippines Inc (LFPI)

SMCN/2012/029: Soil and nutrient management strategies for sustainable vegetable production in southern Philippines

SMCN/2009/031: Watershed evaluation for sustainable use of sloping agricultural land in the southern Philippines

SMCN/2004/078: Evaluation and adoption of improved farming practices on soil and water resources, Bohol Island, Philippines

LWR/2001/003: Integrated Watershed Management for Sustainable Soil and Water Resources Management of the Inabanga Watershed, Bohol Island, Philippines

[2]    R.A. Cramb, D. Catacutan, Z. Culasero-Arellano and K. Mariano (2007) The ‘Landcare’ approach to soil conservation in the Philippines: an assessment of farm-level impacts. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 47:721–726

Rob A. Cramb (2005) Social capital and soil conservation: evidence from the Philippines The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 49:211–226

[3]   See for example Landcare in the Philippines: a practical guide to getting it started and keeping it going and Landcare in the Philippines: stories of people and places

[4]   Vock, Noel (2012) Sustaining and growing landcare systems in the Philippines and Australia. Impact Assessment of ACIAR project ASEM/2002/051

[5]    Robins, Lisa (2018) More than 30 years of ‘Landcare’ in Australia: five phases of development from ‘childhood’ to ‘mid-life’ (crisis or renewal?) Australasian Journal of Environmental Management

Campbell, Andrew, Jason Alexandra and David Curtis (2017) “Reflections on four decades of land restoration in Australia” The Rangeland Journal 39(6) 405-416