877 Philippines - Samar Island Biodiversity Project

877 Philippines - Samar Island Biodiversity Project
Photo: Joseph D'Cruz / UNDP

Context
Samar, the third largest island in the Philippines archipelago, contains one of the country's largest unfragmented tracts of lowland rainforest. The island is of high significance for its global biodiversity, harboring within some 38 species of mammals (50% endemic), 215 species of birds (55% endemic), 51 species of reptiles (69% endemic), 26 species of amphibians (52% endemic) and over 1,000 species of plants (approximately 53% endemic). The forests of Samar, and the other ecosystems of the country, have been widely recognized for their biodiversity. For many years, however, civil unrest on the island hampered the conservation of this rich biodiversity, which faces threats from agricultural encroachment, and unsustainable logging, hunting, and harvesting of non-timber forest products. However, improvements in civil order in the 1990s provided an opportunity to address these threats by expanding and strengthening protected areas (PAs) on the island.

Description
The Samar Island Biodiversity Project was designed to establish and support the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), a new PA zoned for multiple uses including strict biodiversity protection and the sustainable use of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Project interventions seek to: (a) strengthen participatory planning, process-response monitoring, and surveillance and enforcement functions; (b) enhance the conservation management capacities of communities; (c) impart conservation values to the wider Samare'o society; (d) backstop advocacy operations; and (e) support the development of conservation-compatible livelihoods. The GEF shares the cost of these interventions with other financiers, including the Republic of the Philippines, USAID and FAO.

Results
With the support of this project, the SINP was established by presidential proclamation in 2003 as the largest terrestrial PA in the Philippines. The project also supported the passage of three Provincial Ordinances that ban logging and mining in the SINP. With most of its other interventions now complete, the project has been focusing on achieving the full legal proclamation of the SINP by Congress, its final major goal. Despite delays and postponements, the project has managed to bring the SINP legislation before Congress, where it is currently pending. Other important results of this project include:

Improved PA management. The project supported the establishment of a robust participatory management system for the SINP, and also helped in the formation of the PA Management Board (PAMB), as required under national PA legislation. Since the SINP encompasses the largest number of local government units of any park in the Philippines, its PAMB has the largest membership, in excess of 100 members, in the country. Despite the logistical challenges of its size, the PAMB has been established, and an Executive Committee has been created to oversee routine management issues. Through these and other community engagement processes, a strong working relationship has been forged between the park management and neighboring communities.

This project also helped to put in place an agreed management plan for the SINP, complete with zoning plans. Management of the park is undertaken under four broad themes: biodiversity management, community outreach, community-based ecotourism, and stakeholder participation and management. Based on the management plan, a staffing structure has been established for the park, with positions filled by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Additionally, the project has helped to establish essential park infrastructure, including a park headquarters complex and two ranger stations.

Sustainable alternative livelihoods. Samar Island is one of the most impoverished regions of the Philippines, with as much as 45% of the population living below the national poverty line. Creating sustainable livelihood opportunities based on the natural resources of the island has therefore been a major focus of this project.

Ecotourism. The project has helped develop and promote numerous ecotourism ventures to provide livelihood opportunities for Samare'os. This work includes the development of infrastructure at and promotion of the Sohoton caves along the Barey River, which is a growing tourist destination. The project also initiated a Memorandum of Agreement between park management and the municipality of Las Navas for the development of Pinipisakan Falls, which are within the SINP. This development will involve the creation of ecotourism packages, such as boat tours and walks to the Falls, and will serve as an alternative livelihood for communities in Las Navas.

Sustainable agriculture. As a result of a market assessment and development study on priority crops, the project is now piloting investment options for sustainable livelihoods in agriculture. One option being piloted is the establishment of a sustainable community-based nursery that contains indigenous and disease-free plant materials, such as abaca (Musa textilis), tropical fruit trees, medicinal herbs and spices. This nursery provides stock for small-scale cultivation of locally-appropriate crops from which households can develop value-added products such as handicrafts from abaca, snacks, processed foods, and locally-produced soaps and herbal skincare products. These items are sold to tourists in local markets in Catbalogan City and other locations.

Sustainable use of NTFPs. Supported by the project, a feasibility study on the sustainable harvesting and utilization of rattan and almaciga, two non-timber forest products, was completed. With the study's results, and based on the inventory of rattan conducted after the study, provisional harvest quotas for rattan have been produced in four community-based forest management (CBFM) areas within the SINP. The project will pursue park-wide inventories to provide annual quotas for rattan, almaciga and other NTFPs.

Community forestry guards. With assistance from the project, the PAMB identified local community members as candidates for the position of community forestry guards. The project then trained them in forest protection and enforcement. With this training, the new guards will be responsible for community-based patrolling to guard against poaching and illegal encroachment, and for participating in community awareness-raising activities. They will work in conjunction with the full-time staff of the park management once their appointments as deputized forest guards are officially approved.