MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing technical assistance to help the Philippines draw up a program to preserve its watersheds which are threatened by slash-and-burn farming and other harmful land-use practices.
The Japan Special Fund, through ADB, is funding the $850,000 grant to support preparation of the Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Sector Development Program. The funds will be used to assess all aspects of current watershed policy, management, and practices, in order to develop a sector investment strategy that balances environmental sustainability with the preservation of livelihood opportunities, particularly in the upland areas.
Watersheds make up a large proportion of the total land base of the Philippines and provide vital resources for rural communities in upland areas. About 18 million upland farmer households, mainly indigenous people and landless peasants, depend on them for livelihoods. Harmful farming practices, deforestation and illegal logging, and mining have accelerated erosion and damaged many watersheds, causing loss of income and increasing poverty in already poor communities.
"The present trend of increasing food prices is already leading to competing demands on arable land. This further underscores the need to sustainably expand the productive capacity of natural resource assets on which rural communities depend," said Ahsan Tayyab, an ADB Senior Natural Resources Economist.
The effects of climate change are also expected to accelerate forest loss as people migrate from drought-stricken areas and convert forest blocks into agricultural land.
Despite the Philippine government's commitment to laws designed to protect the environment and to manage natural resources, including watersheds, the track record to date has been patchy. Local Government Units tasked with carrying out the job have struggled with a lack of funding or other incentives to invest in watershed protection.
The technical assistance will analyze all the issues affecting watershed management and conduct a feasibility study, with input from all stakeholders, which will result in a comprehensive sector development program. It will include an investment plan and a policy reform agenda that will draw on lessons learned from other projects and programs undertaken in upland areas by the government, with assistance from development partners.