In the Philippines, Indigenous-led conservation opens doors
Safeguarding biodiversity in the Philippines is no easy task.
The world’s second-largest archipelago spans 7,641 islands covering 300 million hectares of land. Nearly half of its flora and fauna is unique to its islands, which include 228 Key Biodiversity Areas which are home to 855 globally important species of plants, corrals, mollusks, elasmobranchs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Protecting these wild spaces and species requires a collaborative effort among and between Indigenous Peoples, local communities, businesses, and other stakeholders, in addition to government agencies in Manila.
Indigenous Peoples in particular have worked to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of biodiversity in the Philippines for countless generations. Their governance of forest resources is especially critical, given three quarters of the country’s forested areas are within ancestral domains, according to the Philippine Association for Intercultural Development.
These efforts have received new support through a Global Environment Facility-funded project focused on ensuring broad and inclusive support for conservation throughout the Philippines.
The GEF-supported initiative implemented by the UN Development Programme has worked to formalize Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas, or ICCAs, as an addition to the country’s system of national protected areas.
In the Philippines, ICCAs span many Indigenous territories, sacred sites, natural features, cultural landscapes, and seascapes. They represent different bio-geographic regions, from the mountain ridges to the coral reefs, and provide habitats to a wide diversity of flora and fauna.
The Philippines ICCA project has enabled, for the first time, the legal recognition of ICCAs in the country. The Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 specifically states that Indigenous Peoples “shall have the responsibility to govern, maintain, develop, protect and conserve such areas in accordance to their Indigenous knowledge, systems, practices and customary laws” with full and effective assistance from government agencies.
In addition to ensuring that Indigenous Peoples have the scope and means to protect biodiverse land, the Philippines ICCA Project has also sought to improve the inventory and mapping of biodiversity within these conserved areas. The project has expanded progress made in an earlier UNDP-supported, GEF-financed project, which laid the foundations for recognition of ICCAs as part of the expanded protected area system.
From 2016 to 2019, the Philippines ICCA project demarcated nearly 155,000 hectares of ICCAs in key biodiversity areas and inventoried the vital flora and fauna living within that area.
The project focused on 10 areas that had been identified as being key to biodiversity. In an assessment of the 10 ICCAs involved in this project, the World Resources Institute found they stored 10.5 million tons of carbon – equivalent to the annual gas emissions of at least 7 million cars. As part of the project at least 10 community conservation plans, along with relevant business plans, were developed and implemented to support ICCAs.
The project has also documented communities’ traditional resource management methods. It helped give Indigenous Peoples more control, surveillance, and enforcement of the natural resources over which they have stewardship. In recognition of these and other advances that are relevant across the Philippines and in other countries, the project was awarded the Development Aid Partner Award for Biodiversity in 2019.