“Kalikasan! Kabuhayan! Pangalagaan!” was the choreographed cheer of our group, the Forest team, at the start of the NTFP Task Force (TF) Partners’ Meeting held at the Philippine Carabao Training Center in Munoz, Nueva Ecija last 8 to 11 July 2012. It was a fun exercise wherein three groups of participants became instant cheering squads, introduced each member and shared expectations.
The meeting had a good mix of women and men participants who came from the 8 current TF partners, 4 new partners, Custom Made Crafts Center (CMCC) and the TF secretariat. A sex-disaggregation of the 33 participants indicated 48% were women and 52% were men. Further classification of participants’ data showed that 15% were men leaders of TF partners and 12% were women holding key positions in their respective organizations.However, only 6% were women leaders of the TF partners. For future meetings, it would be good if organizers would continue to encourage equal gender representation and to include women in leadership positions in their respective organizations.
The two-year gap from the last TF Partners’ Meeting resulted in the excitement of participants to listen from others and catch up on interesting projects implemented in other communities and localities. Participants eagerly awaited the updates from other TF partners and learn from their successes and challenges. The two-day program for sharing became a challenge for the TF organizers who were able to efficiently and effectively manage the meeting for better learning and cooperation.
As a “returning staff” of NTFP- Exchange Programme (EP), the meeting served as my re-orientation on the remarkable TF projects implemented with various partners from Luzon to Mindanao under 4 components – (1) Resource Management, (2) Network Development and Information Exchange, (3) Community-Based Enterprises and Marketing, and (4) Policy Advocacy. Some presentations were on Enterprise Development projects with indigenous communities and CMCC marketing, Community Development through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (CoDe REDD), REDD+, among others. I also shared an update on the NTFP-EP prepared by Ms. Tanya Conlu, EP Conservation Officer. It was also an opportunity for me to meet again good friends and new acquaintances from the competent TF/CMCC staff and partners in the Philippines.
An added feature of the meeting was the presentation of a stimulating topic - “Indigenous Peoples' and Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA)” - shared by officials from the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (New CAPP), a project of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau-Department of Environment and Natural Resources (PAWB-DENR). The project recognizes the “critical roles of indigenous peoples and local communities in managing biodiversity conservation areas in the Philippines”. Women and men in these communities take care, protect and sustainably manage the forests where they live because its resources provide for their well-being.
An interesting 3rd day was the visit to Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF). The entry to KEF enthralled me with a good panoramic view of green rice fields, trees, flowering plants, streams, river and a 10-meter long hanging bridge. I was happy to see Pastor Delbert Rice in his hometown and to set foot on the good soil of Imugan, Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya. A KEF staff member shared how the 7 forest guards (all Ikalahans, an indigenous group in Imugan) undertake participatory monitoring of their forest and how they implement the sustainable “kaingin” system. Unfortunately, I failed to visit the waterfalls near KEF, a local eco-tourist area. My fear of heights prevented me from pursuing the 30-minute walk on a 2-feet wide foot trail with cliff on one side.
To understand the roles of women and men in KEF work, Pastor Rice gladly shared interesting information. He mentioned that the 7 all-male forest guards were supervised by a female forester (KEF had 2 foresters - 1 male and 1 female). He further noted that Ikalahans recognize specific roles of women and men in their communities related to agriculture (productive work) and household (reproductive work). He cited specific example. Men usually take charge of clearing the land for their swidden farming and then return to their homes to take care of the children. Women, aside from having an important role in household and family care, take over the farm to plant vegetables, root crops and other subsistence or cash crops. They would not allow men to “mess up” the farm unless they request them to help such as in harvesting. Since mothers are the only ones who can breastfeed their babies, there is a very good caring support system in Imugan wherein other mothers volunteer as surrogate mothers to breastfeed babies when their biological mothers need to attend to emergencies and/or important economic activities outside the home. This is a good practice and tradition being encouraged to ensure that babies get the best and natural milk – the breast milk. Pastor Rice has a lot more interesting information to share on this topic. Let us hear it directly from him together with specific experiences of our other partners in our next gathering or through our publications, Voices from the Forest and/or Not By Timber Alone (NBTA).
The meeting served as venue for learning from innovative projects related to sustainable management and improving traditional livelihoods from NTFPs. It also provided inspiration for participants to move on and continue the good work to improve the lives of women and men in their communities.
 I was Resource Mobilization and Programme Development Officer of NTFP-EP from August 2004 until January 2006.