The Haribon Foundation has launched a Biodiversity Fellows Program (BFP), a training course for local leaders and environmental officers from the municipalities surrounding the biodiversity-rich Naujan Lake National Park (NLNP) in Oriental Mindoro.
The Biodiversity Fellows Program, or BFP, is a coaching and mentoring program funded in part by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that aims to train conservation leaders in the effective management and protection of the NLNP sub-watersheds in the four neighboring municipalities of Naujan, Victoria, Socorro and Pola, Haribon explained.
The Naujan Lake National Park covers 21,655 hectares of land inhabited by threatened endemic species such as the Tamaraw, Philippine pine, Mindoro warty pig, Philippine teak, Mindoro bleeding-heart pigeon, and the Philippine duck, which is listed vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Despite its ecological importance, pressures that include land-use conflicts, over-extraction of resources and poor waste management threaten the Naujan Lake National Park and its sub-watersheds.
“The protection of the mountains and forests that surround the Naujan Lake is the focus of this training,” explained Haribon project manager Noel Resurreccion.
Conservation begins in knowledge
Eugene Gonzales of the Philippine-American Fund welcomed the program participants at a recent seminar, describing the concept of biodiversity in the Filipino language, “Ito ang halu-halo, pagkakaugnay at gulong o siklo ng buhay (It is the diverse and connected cycle of life).”
Danilo Balete, research associate from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, stressed the importance of understanding how ecology and ecosystems function in order to confront the various threats to the Naujan Lake watersheds.
He cautioned against the rampant nature-degrading activities in the guise of development projects and proposals, and distinguished the consumptive and productive use of natural resources.
“Will you risk erosion after a typhoon for the sake of money?” Balete asked rhetorically.
According to a study by the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology and the University of the Philippines, various forms of agroforestry and agriculture that caused the soil and forest degradation in Mindoro result in “unsustainable rates of erosion and reduced biodiversity.”
“I live near the Naujan Lake. In our community, erratic weather conditions have been strongly felt by ordinary people in the recent years because of our declining forests,” lamented Leonardo Camo, chairman of the Victoria Organic Farmers Association.
Farmer leader Reymundo Dimasacat echoed the same sentiment for their village in Socorro municipality. He recalled that back in the days they did not pay attention to the flooding in their communities until it worsened through the years.
“I learned from this workshop that the big floods are caused by our deforested mountains,” he said.
In his session on lake ecology, Dr. Rey Papa, associate professor from the University of Sto. Tomas, emphasized that the problem of lakes will not be understood without considering the problem of watersheds.
“Lakes are sentinels of climate change,” he said. “What happens to a lake is an indication of how the area is affected by climate change.”
Raquel Umali, OIC of the Municipal Planning and Development division in Naujan identified the lack of public awareness as a major factor that aggravates environmental problems. She explained, “This is the reason why we need to strengthen environmental governance, though the implementation is challenging.”
Mayor of Victoria Joselito Malabanan told Haribon that their municipality is faced with the grave issue of mining that threatens not only his constituents living near the lake but also the different species of fish and migratory birds.
“Through this training, I hope to benefit from this opportunity to learn about reforestation that will also improve the climate change adaptation efforts in our municipality,” Malabanan said.
Alex Villanueva, vice chair of the Batuhan Upland and Lowland Farmers Association (BULFA) in Pola distinguished BFP from other seminars he has attended. “This workshop is unlike the usual seminars I frequent. BFP gave us a wider picture of how we should use our natural resources that keeps the next generation in mind,” he said
Villanueva told Haribon that through his association, he plans to propose a policy or livelihood program in their barangay that pursues sustainable practices.
“Even as a 72-year-old man, I remain hopeful that with the new perspectives gained from this course, our hurting nature will bounce back if we only work together,” enthused Camo.
“I thank Haribon and USAID for putting the Biodiversity Fellows Program together and I hope to see the realization of what we have started here,” he added.
Haribon chief Belinda de la Paz commended the participants’ active engagement throughout the three-day workshop. “The insights and experience you shared prove that much work is laid before us. Nonetheless, we are headed to a good start,” she said.
KITTY AMANTE/HARIBON FOUNDATION