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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, July 2, 2018
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with Errol A. Gatumbato

Mainstreaming biodiversity

Rock & Refuge

I attended the USAID Philippine-American Fund Grantee Summit last Thursday and Friday in Manila, and I was quite impressed by the initiatives of civil society groups across the country in making a difference, not only to lives of its intended beneficiaries, but including our environment as well.

Administered by the Gerry Roxas Foundation, the PhilAm Fund has provided funding support to 37 nongovernment organizations in implementing projects related to anti-trafficking in persons, economic growth, education, governance, and biodiversity conservation.

The Bacolod-based Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. is one of the recipients of the grant, and its proposal was focused on mainstreaming biodiversity conservation to the regional development agenda of the supposed Negros Island Region. The proposal of the PBCFI was prepared in 2016 after the NIR was officially established. However, at the course of the project implementation, the NIR was dissolved but somehow the PBCFI has made adjustment to deliver the required outcome of the project.

The PBCFI, in partnership with the Biodiversity Financing Initiate of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and United Nations Development Programme – Global Environment Facility, has, instead, pushed for the holding last April of the 1st Negros Island Biodiversity Strategy and Action Planning Workshop, which was attended by representatives from various sectors in the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

The output of the workshop was the Negros Island Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which will serve as basis of local governments and other institutions in mainstreaming biodiversity conservation to their respective development agenda, plans, programs, and projects. So far, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental has already adopted the NIBSAP, and I hope other LGUs in the two provinces will similarly do the same.

Out of the PhilAm Fund, the PBCFI has likewise mobilized representatives from communities and LGUs surrounding the three protected areas in the island – Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Northern Negros Natural Park, and the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, to conduct simultaneous biodiversity monitoring and hornbill count in these protected areas, the first of its kind in the country. What was also interesting was, these participants of the biodiversity monitoring have been trained to become what we call “citizen scientists”. The activity was able to establish the population of the hornbills, particularly the threatened Visayan hornbill and Walden’s hornbill, in the three protected areas in Negros.

Another biodiversity mainstreaming that has been initiated by the PBCFI using the PhilAm Fund was the introduction of non-destructive, non-intrusive, and biodiversity friendly livelihood to communities.

In partnership with the local government of Victorias, a demonstration site for honeybee production was initiated in Gawahon Eco Park. Using stingless native bees, community members collect honey without any destruction to the forest. In fact, communities are protecting the forest because it is where their livelihood emanates. The indigenous and native flowering trees in the area are the sources of food of bees, and so they can substantially produce honey. The communities started to market and earn from the honeybee they produce. This is the kind of livelihood that has two impacts – additional income to communities and the protection of natural forest.

The project of the PBCFI under the PhilAm Fund has made it possible to collect a certain species of plant that might be new to science. The specimen was collected in one of the forest patches in Negros Occidental, and is now undergoing detailed scientific review. It might be declared as another endemic species of the province and the Philippines, in general.

If this will happen, it will further boost the importance of Negros Island in terms of flora and fauna endemism. It is, therefore, necessary to protect what has been left of the natural forests in the island, and who knows, there might be more species that are just waiting to be discovered and described.*

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