Making Things Work
By SERGIO A. PONTILLAS
In this era of rapidly decreasing biodiversity, conservation is the key word. In the late 1990s, ecosystems-wide approaches to conservation and management of resources have paved the way for the current practice of community-based resource management schemes. The chanting of this mantra among conservationists and local government units is so strong, it gave way to the sprouting of numerous locally-based, so called, conservation and management projects in almost every municipality in the province. For the sake of bureaucratic commitment, local government units have started their own forestry and mangrove management sites.
There is nothing wrong with this mantra chanting and boasting, of course. We need everything we could do to slow down the rapid decimation of our primary growth and mangrove forests.
The problem arises when we forget the effects that such management schemes may have on the poorest of the poor: those who lack assets and income, and the opportunities to engage in productive activities that can sustain livelihoods. They are excluded from decision-making processes and governance systems. Often, they have no legal recourse. They are vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters, and the diseases that often result from such incidents. They lack the capacity to promote and defend community interests. These people often live in the periphery of society where they try to scratch a living for themselves, most often in the margins of forested lands and mangrove forests. Internal displacement is not far when management schemes, although one would conclude from lip-serving names as “community-based,” are designed without the inclusion of all the local indigents who often do not have the avenue to express their concerns.
When this happens, misguided biodiversity conservation may prove to be the worst enemy of the poor.
This situation hampers conservation in two ways: (1) it defeats the purpose of conservation for those who should be the first to enjoy and benefit from its effects; and (2) it dis-empowers a sector of society which could play a key role in implementing local conservation and management practices in specific areas.
In executing plans, we must not forget the primary beneficiary of our conservation efforts. It is not the scientists or the bureaucrats. It is not the city dwelling consumer living 500 miles away from our forests and mangroves. It is the poor who directly utilize our limited resources that would immediately benefit from conservation and management efforts.
When resource management schemes fail, our scientists can always go somewhere else. Our local officials can declare new projects in new areas. But the local indigent does not have this option. Deprived of almost everything, our poor will keep on scratching the sparse earth in order to live, until energy runs out on them or nature finally turns brown and barren, whichever comes first.
Editorial published in the July 3-9, 2006 issue of Bandillo ng Palawan