Date released
24 April 2023

In the Philippines, smallholder farmers are often among the poorest in the nation because they lack access to appropriate technologies and knowledge to build profitable, climate-resilient and sustainable food production systems.

Many farmers also try to increase their income by resorting to traditional but destructive ways of farming, such as slash-and-burn. However, practices such as these provide only short-term benefits and pose greater threats to the environment.

The ACIAR-supported project, ‘Enhancing livelihoods through Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR)’, is working with people's organisations in the Philippines to change mindsets and practices in planting trees as a long-term, rather than an immediate, source of livelihood. Restored forests will contribute to reducing poverty, conserving biodiversity and ensuring food security.  

Women tending to seedlings
Ms Anabelle Talon, secretary of Kawayanon Farmers Association Inc. (KFAI), at the community nursery in Barangay (village) Kawayanon Caibiran, Biliran, Philippines.

Improving planting practices, changing mindsets

‘Reforestation is not the only solution to solve the problem of forest degradation. The everyday needs of the people living within or near forests are also important considerations alongside restoration efforts,’ said University of Sunshine Coast project leader Dr Nestor Gregorio.

‘We are working with partners to improve rural livelihoods and provide multiple benefits to communities who depend on the forests by improving their land use and engaging in sustainable practices that will protect and conserve the environment.’

The project engaged with 10 partner people’s organisations (POs) in Leyte, Biliran, Cebu and Iloilo provinces to test community-based forest restoration initiatives with improved livelihoods and application of best practices in community forestry.

The POs now demonstrate enhanced knowledge of best practices and research-based techniques in producing quality nursery seedlings and establishing plantations. They have modified their nursery cultural practices and field planting techniques, which have significantly improved the survival and growth of seedlings.

Anabelle Talon, secretary of Kawayanon Farmers Association Inc. (KFAI), in Barangay (village) Kawayanon in the Caibiran municipality, Biliran Province, recalls the challenges their community encountered before the reforestation project was implemented. Having lived in the village for 50 years, she witnessed how forest degradation affected their community.

‘We experienced landslides and fires that damaged and threatened our plantations and crops,’ said Ms Talon.

‘When the ACIAR project came to our community in 2014, we learnt how to grow quality seedlings, establish a nursery and ensure that our crops survive in the upland plantation. We even learnt the correct size and dimensions of the plots where we will plant our seedlings.’

Ms Talon said that their upland plantation has been rehabilitated, and they see more trees growing. More than planting and growing techniques, however, she says that through the project’s capacity building activities, community members have also learned other skills they are now using for further work.

‘We have learned a lot through the ACIAR project. Members of our association are also being asked for advice whenever there are tree-planting activities in schools so they can teach the students  the proper way of planting,’ said Ms Talon.

‘At a personal level, I also learned how to draft important documentation such as our association or village resolutions related to our community projects. The skills I have learned from the ACIAR project enabled me to take on another role as project proposal team chairperson in our village for a government-funded project. We hope more agencies will support our community on nursery establishment and livelihood opportunities so we can sustain the gains from the project.’

Men measuring circumference of a tree in a forest
Barangay Kawayanon, community member, and ACIAR project community development worker measure tree sizes in an upland plantation in Biliran Province.

Improving livelihoods

The improved capacity to produce high-quality seedlings and planting materials has motivated some POs to venture into nursery seedling production as a livelihood. Other POs are producing organic fertiliser for crops and forest tree seedlings.

The partner POs are at various stages of implementing their livelihood projects, such as nursery seedling production, organic fertiliser production, communal agroforestry farms, poultry production, crop processing enterprise and apiculture.

The livelihood projects have positive impacts and are starting to generate income, which varies across the communities. The income flow is expected to increase as the livelihood projects progress.

POs are also saving money thanks to the higher survival rate of forest tree seedlings (average of 84% for every 2000 seedling production target), resulting in increased savings from production costs.

Researcher assessing seedling
University of the Sunshine Coast project leader Dr Nestor Gregorio explains the proper way of planting a seedling during a tree planting activity in Biliran Province.

Developing and strengthening partnerships

Understanding community capacity is essential in designing interventions to promote restoration projects.

Mr Rogelio Tripoli, a community development officer involved in the ACIAR-supported projects, attests to the importance of community involvement in implementing research and development projects.

‘ACIAR and the Visayas State University have been working on reforestation research in the Visayas, especially the provinces of Leyte and Biliran, for about 2 decades. We coordinated with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to make sure that we identify the most appropriate communities and partners that we will work with for this project.’

Mr Tripoli said many reforestation initiatives implemented in the Biliran Province were unsuccessful because they did not focus on social preparation and ensuring that communities are ready, fully engaged and trained to implement the projects.

‘In this particular community, Barangay (village) Kawayanon, we saw that significant portions of their upland areas had become grasslands. When we started the ACIAR project, we made sure that we worked closely with the local government agencies, units andcommunities because we know that this approach is critical to the project’s success,’ said Mr Tripoli.

Three men assessing seedlings on a table in a nursery

The project has gradually changed the perspectives of members of partner POs on community-based forest restoration, from initially being contractors to owners of trees and non-tree-based resources.

More than 50 hectares of forest area have been restored through the project. Partnerships with government agencies and the private sector have also been developed to scale up reforestation initiatives.

Local government units have provided additional support to implement agroforestry projects such as free insurance membership for their livestock, crops livelihood and supply of fertilisers.

A partnership with an international petroleum company is currently underway, which aims to restore at least 10,000 hectares of grasslands and open forest in Leyte, Biliran, and Samar Islands. The company will provide core benefits, including restoration and livelihood funds to involved communities, and additional benefits to POs, from generating carbon credits from established plantations.

ACIAR Research Program Manager, Social Systems, Dr Todd Sanderson, says forest and landscape restoration is a long-term investment.

‘It is important that we look at reforestation beyond just planting trees. Growing and harvesting trees take a long time and requires commitment. We also have to ensure that communities are prepared and have alternative livelihood opportunities, so they are able to sustain reforestation activities.’

‘Working for almost 2 decades to discover and explore ways to address deforestation is no mean feat, and we are proud that ACIAR has been part of this important work in the Philippines. Forest restoration is an attainable goal if we continue our efforts, and we are pleased that more partners are seeing the value of and benefits from our research work,’ said Dr Sanderson.

Learn more about the research effort via the project page.