A review of policy actions for more resilient land management in the upper watersheds of Davao



  • Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy(HELP) Davao Network


  • 21/12/2011

  • REGION :

  • South-Eastern Asia


  • Philippines (Davao Region of Southern Mindanao)


  • In the Davao Region of Southern Mindanao, Philippines, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) has been a key framework for promoting sustainable land use in local ecosystems. However deteriorating trends continue across the watersheds and there is an absence of critical reviews to validate whether the current set of policies are providing a supportive environment for sustainable socio-ecological production landscapes . The predominant socio-ecological production systems in Davao are identified and a focus on ‘opposite end of the spectrum’ production systems (agri-business sector and the customary production systems) provides a context for the range of pressures and drivers of change. The progress of recent watershed policy towards achieving intended policy outcomes such as ‘control of harmful agriculture practices’ are reviewed with selected field level partnerships highlighted as having greater success in changing minds and actions of communities when compared with the top down formal watershed policies. It is concluded that in order to achieve the goal of ‘sustainable and resilient socio-ecological production landscapes,’ the communities of Davao would be best served if the two production systems (traditional and agri business) will have to find ways of co-existing. It is also concluded that IWRM can provide an appropriate framework for moving towards this goal, but only if greater commitment, leadership and resources are delivered through government, corporate and society partnerships.


  • Policy, partnerships, IWRM, socio-ecological production landscapes, indigenous knowledge.


  • Mr. Declan Hearn Coord­inator and Development Consultant, HELP Davao Network.

1.Description of the Problem/ Challenge

The challenge today in the Marilog area is the serious degradation of the ecosystems, including loss of forest cover, soil erosion and deteriorating water quality.
The degradation of the upland ecosystem is noted to be impacting on the ability of Indigenous People (IP) communities to sustain traditional livelihoods and negatively affecting the health and wellbeing of local communities. This degradation highlights lost opportunity for potential economic benefits from standing forests and agro-forestry production systems.
The degradation of steep slopes in the area has also increased vulnerability of local communities to landslide and the economic burden on downstream communities is escalating due to increased severity and frequency of flash floods.
The recent growth of the banana sector in the Marilog area and the wider region of Davao presents threats and opportunities for the IP communities. The challenge for policy makers will be how to guide the evolution of landscape management practices to reap some of the economic rewards seen in agri-business production models and still retain cultural and ecological integrity across the region.

2.Applying new models for conservation

In 2010 Davao HELP Network was accepted in to the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI)”. Member organisations of IPSI share a common commitment to uphold the vision of the Satoyama Initiative to realise societies in harmony with nature. The initiative outlines a three-fold approach to:

  • Consolidate wisdom on securing diverse ecosystem services and values;
  • Integrate traditional ecological knowledge and modern science to promote innovations;
  • Explore new forms of co-management systems or evolving frameworks of “commons” respecting traditional communal land tenure.

This case study looks at how to apply the Satoyama approach to guide better policy actions at the field level. To contextualise our understanding we look to explore two local land use groups, agroforestry subsistence landscapes of the Indigenous Peoples and the agri-business production landscapes of the Banana sector.
Five Keys for Change are identified as appropriate steps for coordination structures and policy that can build better bridges for inter-sectoral collaboration between current land use, traditional ecological knowledge and modern science. It is concluded that in order to achieve a goal of ‘sustainable and resilient socio-ecological production landscapes ,’ the communities of Davao would be best served if the two production systems (traditional and banana) can find ways of co-existing in Davao.

3.The Keys for change

Four key lessons are extracted that are considered valuable tools for policy makers and water and land use managers to help over come the described challenges

3.1. Constructive engagement and joint social learning processes.

Constructive engagement and joint social learning processes with the land user groups (cluster by sector or socio ecological production landscapes) can help managers and policy makers better understand existing practices and this can allow for more appropriate programs and policies to protect critical areas, avoid conflicts and assist the marginalised groups to have a deeper economic appreciation of their lands. The KFI partnership with the Marilog Communities is a good working example of how constructive engagement and joint social learning process can result in field level practices with positive economic and ecological benefits for local and downstream communities.

3.2. Adoption of an Agro-ecological landscape approach.

Philippine law sets out land classification and agriculture department maps agriculture use but these formal classifications often do not accurately reflect the local mosaic of the actual land uses and land cover. At a local level the Davao City watershed code call for the delineation of Prime Agricultural Areas for use and utilization for human and economic activities. The Watershed Code in Prime Agricultural Areas directs agricultural activities towards ensuring ‘food security shall be pursued through sustainable and environment-friendly agriculture in a harmonious balance between economic development and environmental protection.’
Adoption of an Agro-Ecological landscape approach can aid the development of appropriate policies for different production systems (e.g. subsistence Agro forestry, Agri Business, etc). These landscapes can be identified at as sub watershed units defined by real ground uses including the predominant social, ecological and production systems. However it is important to be aware of the interrelated nature of the sub units. For example in Davao efforts need to be focused on ensuring the economic opportunities and benefits of banana can be retained without further erosion of desirable cultural practices. It also must be recognised that the watershed unit remains an appropriate strategic level for planning and monitoring of overall ecosystem health.
The defining of Socio Ecological Production Landscapes is not intended to replace formal land classification but to support the Watershed Code and enable more responsive policy decisions. A very basic division of the type of socio ecological production landscapes in Davao could be defined as

  • Agro Forestry Non-Tillage Landscapes.
  • Mixed Use Agriculture Landscapes
  • Prime Agricultural Production Landscapes.

Figures 2 and 3 below highlight some of the socio ecological aspects of two landscape systems; a traditional and a developed system, the former represented in the Agro Forestry Subsistence Landscapes and the later represented by an Agri-Business landscapes.
The current land use systems of the Indigenous Peoples (IP’s) communities are perceived by both themselves and by down stream urban communities as being unproductive. This perception is collaborated by the income levels in Barangay Marilog where 84% of household were living on less than 172 php (4$) a day . Considering there is on average 5 person per household this means that the majority of persons in Marilog are living on less than 1$/day. This can be considered as extreme poverty when bench marked with poverty statistics in the Philippines.
The culture of banana production is the far end of the spectrum of agricultural production systems when compared with the IP socio-ecological systems. Banana is a major land user and employer in the region. Its production system is dominated by mono cropping and high input systems. Understandably banana and its associated economic opportunities is a strong driver of change in both cultural and land use practices across the region.

Figure 1: Visual assessment of Agro Forestry Non-Tillage Landscape in Davao, Philippines.

Figure 2: Visual assessment of a Prime Agricultural Production Landscape in Davao, Philippines

3.3. Rights based approaches must be considered

It is critical that policy makers and end user alike recognise the existence of the multi-layered systems and the need for plural societal systems. Plural societal systems look to ensure that formal law recognises and reinforces other power structures outside the formal state. The IPRA law in the Philippines establishes a formal framework for such a Plural Societal System. However all land and water use laws need to recognise and understand the potential cross cutting factors (influencing and barriers) depending on how informal or traditional authority systems are considered.
The challenges in negotiation and identifying pathways towards understanding of the customary arrangement are considered to be procedural and an ongoing evolving process. Such processes will require active field extension officers (e.g. CA, CENRO, DA, DENR) who facilitate knowledge awareness and new practices and critically must provide effective feedback to policy makers. Such feedback loops are traditionally not well established in the Philippines and this may be an area where academic, corporate and civil society partnerships (such as the Davao Water Partnership) may be able to play effective roles.
It is projected that time invested in aligning customary and formal law in the upland ecosystems of the Philippines, can result in higher adoption rates, increasing the likelihood of achieving intended benefits and is more likely to be sustained over time than costly enforcement programs of formal law.

Customary knowledge is not static, but adaptive
It is believed that efforts to ignite a renaissance in customary knowledge can positively serve the local and downstream communities. The selection of the word renaissance implies the need to cast out existing perceptions and embrace new ways of viewing and employing customary knowledge. A renaissance must seek to distil the best practices and innovate for appropriate new cultural pathways that are socially acceptable and economically sustainable.

3.5. Scaling up through effective partnerships

Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), which seeks to consider all users, can be used to enable equitable decision-making framework for allocation of water resources and land use policies at the watershed or basin level. Using the IWRM Spiral can help policy makers and local communities understand long term changes in their landscapes (See figure 3) While full implementation of IWRM is recommended as an effective framework to build social, economic and environmental capital for the benefit of all Davaoñenous. Local government and national level government agencies must be ready and open to recognise limitations of ongoing efforts and must be prepared to recognise what has worked and what has not. To date efforts in Watershed management have built social capital but have not done enough to reverse deteriorating ecosystems or direct green growth.

Figure 3: Major land use milestones in Marilog Davao


New partnerships must be open and inclusive of government, academics, corporations and society. These partnerships need to be formalized with clear directions and roles. They must be resources to better engage commitment and guide leadership towards more responsive environmental and sustainable economic outcomes. The Watershed Management Council must be operationalised to lead coordination of efforts. Existing informal coordination efforts (e.g. Davao Water Partnership, WMCC, PCEEM) should be unitized by the government to engage a full range of stakeholders. Local government should seek to identify sectoral champions to lead new responsive approaches that can result in better socio ecological production systems on the ground.

4.The Change

The keys for change have been identified through a review of real experiences from IP communities working with NGOs and government agencies and by applying the Satoyama frameworks to attempt to improve understanding and appreciation of the need to adapt customary policies in ways that sustain core elements of culture yet adapt to pressures for change. By working in real partnership with end users, such as the IPs, decision makers can become more aware of field realities and real sustainable opportunity for change. Existing partnerships at the field level are demonstrating that this process can lead to more sustainable actions on the ground. The challenge now is to find methods to scale up this lesson to watershed levels.

Main Tools Used:

Tool 1: Levels of public participation

Tool 2: Matrix of Social Ecological indicators

Tool 3: Resilience Web – a graphical depicting of the Social Ecological indicators. The web highlights the complex inter-related aspects of resilience from a social ecological viewpoint.