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Institutional aspects of local participation in natural resource management

Herminia C. Tanguilig and Valerio C. Tanguilig


The Philippine Local Government Code provides the basis for local natural resources management. This Code which was enacted into Law in 1991, however, is not necessarily the driving force for many Local Government Units (LGU’s) who have made breakthroughs in local natural resources management (NRM).

The paper provides case studies that reveal the policy and institutional hurdles in implementing local and participatory natural resources management programmes; the lessons and experiences amongst LGU’s in linking good governance with NRM; the research and development activities on local and participatory NRM; and the key institutional and policy issues to be communicated at the national level.

Through the development of the Natural Resources Management and Development Plan (NRMDP) employing public-private partnerships and capitalizing the presence of research and non-governmental organizations, agri-business and other community sectors, the Municipality of Lantapan, a local government unit, succeeded in overcoming constraints such as: lack of budget, manpower, technical skills, and poor community involvement.

A key feature of the NRMDP is the Landcare Program which centers on formation of community landcare groups that mobilize resources for wider adoption of conservation practices. The Landcare Program is a grassroots approach for rapid and inexpensive dissemination of available, simple, and lower-cost technologies of agroforestry and conservation practices. It was also found out that communities have important roles to play but local government units have greater responsibility to provide the policy and institutional basis for supporting community-based initiatives.

Case studies reveal that the responsibility for producing environmental goods goes beyond the normal practices of governance and is entertwined with the need for long-term education and managing the political culture through a pragmatic approach that directly links NRM with good governance.

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1Watershed management is a multi-dimensional problem that has physical, social, economic, and institutional components. Since population growth and poverty are the driving forces behind resource over-use and degradation, people must always have an integral part of any solution.

2Unsustainable development occurs in areas where poor households farm sloping lands that are poorly suited to intensive cultivation. Upland populations relied almost exclusively on agricultural production and gathering of forest products, and were largely subsistence-oriented. Land use decisions, land expansion and agricultural technology were, therefore, largely driven by local demographic, economic and biophysical conditions (Coxhead et al, 2001).

3Land-degrading patterns of agricultural growth are often taken to be promoted by adverse economic conditions (e.g. poverty) and malfunctioning institutions such as tenure insecurity or open access to land without restraints on its uses. Property rights to uncultivated lands in the Philippine uplands are poorly defined and difficult to enforce. Similarly, upland and highland communities have found their activities integrated with national and global markets which play major roles in determining land use. The history of land use in Lantapan since the 1950s involved substantial crop substitution in response to new commercial opportunities (Coxhead et al, 2001).

4Adopting certain agricultural practices is a function of tenure status, education and wealth (Coxhead et al, 2001). Farmers with more secure tenure have strong incentives to conserve soil resources (Rola et al, 2001). However, critical factor towards adoption is attitude  along with land tenure, educational attainment, and social participation (Sayami, et al 1997).

5Sustainable management of land resources must become a central task for politicians at local and national level. In response to Agenda 21, the Philippine government created the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). PCSD paved the way for a democratic forest management where forest governance must reside in civil society, and that legal authority and institutional capacities should be transferred to rural groups to protect natural forest.

6Community-based Forest Management Program is one of the four people-oriented programs of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) designed to suit the specific conditions of different kinds of upland forest occupants. This initiative by the Philippine Government through DENR is a response to operationalize the concept of the Philippine Local Government Code along side with the Philippince Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). The Local Government Code provides for the autonomy of local government units at provincial, municipal and barangay levels and mandates them to play leading roles in promoting sustainable development within their areas of jurisdiction.

7Among the management strategies in an attempt to sustainably manage the remaining forests in the country is the institutionalization of community-based forest management (CBFM) as a national strategy. CBFM is a strategy where locus of decision-making lies with the people in the communities. It is a system that allows people to define their needs, goals and aspirations. CBFM’s framework also includes provision of subsidy and incentives for rural communities to rehabilitate denuded areas, protect and manage forests. The government’s share may take the form of cash payments, or through reforestation to be undertaken by the holders of the lands. Another form of incentive is in terms of privilege. Communities are helped to invest their incomes into viable livelihood projects so that they will become less dependent on forest for subsistence.

8It is not lack of knowledge that prevents us from alleviating or eliminating many of the serious environmental problems we face today. If we know how to slow or reverse many of the threats to the biospheres, why then do we not use our knowledge? The answer is, in large measure, a lack of political will. Political decisions affect how resources are managed.

9The conflicting national policies in mining and forestry, the undefined mandates of some government organizations that often over lap with each other, the absence of clear guidance on laws and policies affecting forests and watersheds are problems that local government and communities have to grapple (Sumbalan, 2001). Government policies have created a condition where the interest of the local people suffer because they lack power. The desire is inherent in our human nature and basically important to our survival. The communities are better off with their own local forest management schemes once they are empowered. Only through community empowerment in forest management can we make a shift from mistrust to participation. There must be a power shift. That is, a transfer of power from the State to the community. Community empowerment is a better response to the failure of forest policies to bring about the protection and sound utilization of forest resources.

Conceptual Framework

10Institutions could be contextualized as clusters of rights, rules, and decision-making procedures occurring at all levels of social organizations and with an emphasis on environmental and resource regimes. The role institutions play causes and confronts environmental change.

11Sustainable natural resource use depends critically on land-users’ decisions, the farmers, who are typically poor, risk averse and highly constrained in terms of access to credit, information and technology while their behavior is driven by the desire to maximize the well-being of their household, or at best of their local community (Coxhead et al, 2001) Decision makers operate through a set of institutions. Foremost among these are markets which often do a great job in ensuring provisioning services for groups of stakeholders. However, if market links to the rest of the economy are tenuous, the most effective instruments for promoting sustainable agriculture in uplands would be direct interventions such as technology transfer, extension and education (Coxhead et al, 2001).

12There should be reliance on consensus rules in decision-making. There should be a need to move beyond enforcement and management models, and also a need to recognize interplay and embrace multi-level arrangements. Research plays a central role on the problems of fit, interplay, and scale.

13Human security is achieved when individuals and communities have the options necessary to end, mitigate or adapt to threats to their human, environmental and social rights, have the capacity and freedom to exercise these options, and actively participate in pursuing these options (Contreras, 1991).

14Environmental change interacts with other processes of change, and biophysical, social, economic, institutional, and technological conditions. This dynamic influences outcomes, including conflict and cooperation (Revilla, 2000).

15Human insecurities are high in coastal and urban areas, and issues of governance are critical. A challenge and important is the work at the science-policy interface to increase response capacity and mitigate environmental change which takes place within the dynamics of other social changes.

16Figure 1 shows the concept of the interplay of processes of change and its effect on governance, human security which eventually causes environmental change.

Figure 1. Conceptual Framework

Figure 1. Conceptual Framework


Collection of Data

17Lantapan, the study area, an upland municipality in the Manupali Watershed of Bukidnon province in Sothern Philippines, has a total land area of 31,820 hectares (Lantapan NRMDP 1998). The study area is a representative of upland agricultural conditions in the humid tropics, and displays common forms of environmental stress associated with unchecked resource exploitation (Coxhead et al, 2001).

18The activities/projects focused in the conservation and management of watershed and natural resources include: the carrying out of the devolved Integrated Social Forestry Program to ensure that the forest occupants participating in the program would feel the economic value of reforestation, and to ensure partnership between the tree planters and the province; establishment of a mechanism for coordination and complementation of efforts among LGU’s and national line agencies and the non-governmental organizations in watershed development and protection, important outputs of this activity include properly documented consensus on the current situation of the watershed and proposed intervention; and environmental management planning and development policy analysis using a watershed model. Policy briefs are very useful to the local decision makers and to the national line agencies operating in the province.

19To monitor the activities of a panel of farmers in Lantapan, a series of surveys were carried out. The surveys addressed farm production, crop choice, technology and earnings. Parallel surveys were also undertaken to monitor agricultural prices from the farm gate to provincial and regional markets. Farm surveys were done to establish a base information about the Lantapan agricultural economy.

20A landscape-based rapid rural appraisal (RRA) of the watershed was done to get agroecological and socioeconomic information on the area. It was a participatory landscape/lifescape appraisal (PLLA) method that considered the watershed as a research perspective.

21Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (SANREM) - based research used a panel of observations to permit analysis of changes over time in agricultural technology, prices, incomes, resource allocation decisions and respondents’ economic and environmental implications. For this, a series of surveys was an important activity for monitoring progress towards sustainable agricultural developments in the Manupali wastershed.

22Through the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP), with project’s primary research site in the municipality of Lantapan, a site-base research was implemented addressing sustainable development that is cognizant of local as well as national conditions, markets and policies. SANREM CRSP is a comprehensive farmer participatory, interdisciplinary, research, training and information exchange program that aims to elucidate and establish the principles of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management at a landscape scale. The site-based research on the other hand, adhered to the principles of participation, interdisciplinary and intersectoral collaboration and a landscape approach to resource and environmental issues.

Participatory Methods and Approaches

23The combination of applied research and participatory information exchange method was used to influence the environmental awareness, attitudes and practices of a group of mainly farm households. The methods used to disseminate and acquire feedback were very informal. Such process was employed to also evaluate the achievements of a project.

24Site selection process was accompanied by a rapid rural appraisal (Bellows et al, 1995). A number of different research, outreach and training activities have been conducted at the site by SANREM-funded consortia since 1994. These activities have included soil quality and soil erosion measurement on experimental plots and in farmer-managed fields, biodiversity assessments and agroforestry initiatives, water quality monitoring by a local NGO established with SANREM support; survey-based collection and analysis of economic, ethnographic and agronomic data from households; policy briefings and analysis at local and provincial levels, to name just the most prominent.

25Impact assessment was also conducted to measure and evaluate the extent to which SANREM activities have influenced processes leading towards the promotion of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management in and around the project site (Sumbalan, 2001). Assessing program impact posed a challenge in the selection of appropriate measures (indicators) as well as methods to measure change. The impact has been contextualized as a change in the behavior of participants that results in an enhanced quality of life or improvement in environmental conditions such as the quality or quantity of natural resources.


Institutional Environment to Support Local Development

26In response to the Brundtland Commission Report and the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a national Government Agency, designated four people-oriented forestry programs: 1) the Integrated Social Forestry Program (ISFP), 2) the Community-Based Forest Management Program (CBFMP), 3) contract reforestation with a Forest Land Management Agreement (FLMA), and 4) the Ancestral Lands Management Program. These programs were designed to suit the specific conditions of different kinds of upland forest occupants. Potential ISFP sites include land area with already extensive land uses and farmed public areas. The target areas for CBFM are residual forests and sites with extensive land uses such as kaingin, while the sites that require contracts for reforestation and where occupants are required by DENR to enter with a forest land management agreement are the grasslands and degraded brush lands. These programs may overlap depending on the needs of the locality.

27The government has been pursuing to address the tenure and welfare concerns of indigenous groups in the uplands through legislation and developmental interventions, respectively. Concerning legislation, DENR issued administrative orders (AOs) to allow for the certification by government of the ancestral domain claims of indigenous peoples. AOs seek to raise the propensity of indigenous groups to invest in improving the ecological appropriateness of their livelihood systems (Malayang, 2000).

28The community and private group (CPG) participation in the total effort of protecting forests in the country are high. These groups actively participate in decision-making and monitoring processes that were formerly the exclusive domain of DENR (Malayang, 2000).

29In recent years, two important institutional developments have been formed: the Multisectoral Forest Protection Committees (MFPCs) organized by DENR, and the NGOs for Integrated Protected Areas (NIPA) organized by certain NGOs. MFPCs are forest protection groups operating in specific areas of the country, the members of which come from local NGOs and POs, local government units (LGU’s), the media, religious organizations, military and police units, and DENR offices. They were organized by DENR to widen its regulatory base for enforcing forestry laws (Malayang, 2000).

30The concept of MFPCs was anchored on the assumption that broader local participation enforcement would probably improve the effectiveness of forest protection. The idea was that effectiveness is directly related to the extent to which local citizens, from diverse interest groups, are allowed to own the regulatory effort itself. Further, with greater local participation and direct supervision of enforcement, the effort would tend to be more focused and credible. With closer and more direct access to DENR documents and operations, MFPCs have been in better position to denounce irregularities among DENR operatives and officials, and to evaluate the soundness of DENR decisions on permits and licenses it regularly issues. MFPCs have become both sounding boards for DENR on the local acceptability of its policies and procedures, and ombudsmen for DENR. Their net effect has been a marked decline in the prevalence of irregularities in MFPC-supervised DENR offices, and increased credibility of certain DENR programs due to greater public transparency (Malayang, 2000).

31MFPCs meet regularly to assess the forestry protection situation in their areas of coverage. They evaluate DENR’s official assessments, and MFPC members are expected to be critical of the government’s environmental activities in their area. They are likewise expected to make suggestions on how to improve forest protection in their coverage area, as well as how to improve the policies of DENR related to the enforcement of forest regulations. They help DENR formulate local strategies on forest protection. In some cases, members of MFPCs accompany DENR operatives in enforcement operations (Malayang, 2000).

32On the other hand, the trend towards NG0-government partnerships to promote forest protection is also evident in the case of NGOs for Integrated Protected  Areas (NIPA). The latter is a consortium of NGOs that organized themselves to jointly implement the integrated protected area component of the Sector Adjustment Loan (SECAL) Program of DENR. SECAL is funded by the World Bank but the component on protected areas is funded by a grant from Global Environmental Facility (GEF) (Malayang, 2000).

33As regards community and private groups (CPGs), their function in the field of forest protection relates not only to their involvement in environmental protection activities such as reforestation or the provision of relevant services such as community organizing, training, and environmental education; it also resides in their capacity to influence the policy process by generating or resolving conflicts (Malayang, 2000). While CPGs participation in forest protection has direct bearing on their members’ welfare, the significance and value of CPGs participation in the total effort of protecting forests in the country are high.

34It has become an article of faith among rural development practitioners that protection of the uplands entail the participation and vigilance of local communities. The policy environment is being established to empower local communities to exercise more control over forest lands and resources (Severino, 2000).

Local Government Initiatives

35The Local Government Code, which devolves powers and resources in environmental management from central to local governments, directs local officials and community members in decision-making processes as well as in watershed conservation and management.

36On the other hand, the SANREM Project which was based in the municipality of Lantapan has assisted the local government in carrying out its responsibilities in watershed conservation and management (Sumbalan, 2001). The SANREM Project played a pivotal role in addressing the problem of declining rich natural resource base. The scientific outputs of SANREM research resulted to the formulation of the Municipal-led Natural Resource Management Plan which presents practical interventions to the critical environment of Lantapan’s natural resource endowments. The formulated municipal-led plan is considered a milestone in the decentralization of planning and management to the local level. A shift was made from traditional top-down planning approach to a participatory, multi-sectoral planning and research-based decision-making approach (Sumbalan, 2001).

37Through the Bukidnon Watershed Protection and Development Council (BWPDC), the province held its first Bukidnon Watershed Summit with support from USAID, SANREM, GOLD, and the Growth with Equity for Mindanao (GEM) and AusAID. This locally initiated advocacy on watershed has inspired other donor organizations to link up with the province to encourage other LGU’s for Mindanao-wide activities on watershed advocacy (Sumbalan, 2001).

38The International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) has likewise linked up with the province for the scaling up of the natural resource management methodology to the different municipalities of the province. This is being pursued with the introduction of the Landcare movement.

39Through a grant given by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Lantapan via SANREM CRSP, the Natural Resources Management and Development Plan (NRMDP) was formulated and adopted in March 1998. Various sectors in the Lantapan Community who were all members of the Municipal Natural Resource Management Council (MNRMC) and the regional representative of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) were involved in the planning process using SANREM’s landscape-lifescape participatory approach. The partnership resulted in the sharing of knowledge and expertise and joint efforts in the development of approaches for sustainable agriculture and natural resources management. The SANREM CRSP has served both as an inspiration and a model for other evolving agriculture and natural resource management-related programs.

Agroecological Characteristics of the Manupali Watershed Prior Interventions

40The geography of the Manupali watershed is a key component of the agricultural economy. However, soil erosion problem in the watershed is due to the intensification of agricultural land use with corn as the predominant crop. Other important crops distributed through the watershed include coffee, beans, tomatoes, cabbages and potatoes. Cultivation of these vegetable crops has given economic importance. However, vegetable crops occupy only about 10% of the total agricultural land area in spite of their relative economic importance.

41In terms of social indicators, farmers borrow in the informal credit market to cover pre-harvest costs. Lack of access to timely or affordable credit is frequently cited as a constraint to agricultural development. Hence, the lack of a more developed capital market tends to reduce the profitability of producing long-term perennial crops.

42Farmers are aware that land degradation problem exists due to cultivation expansion of corn and vegetables at higher altitudes, and the replacement of perennial land uses with short-season and annual crops on sloping lands.  However, only few farmers opt tosignificant investments in soil-conserving structures or technologies even though they know that this may lead to land quality degradation or land abandonment in the future. The lack of well-defined and enforced property rights in land has been one of the primary factors of forest encroachment. Landlessness and unemployment stimulated searches for open-access resources from which incomes, however tenuous, could be earned. Consequently, farmers are lured to the high benefits of growing and expanding cultivation even into steeply sloping lands and at forest margin of high-value crops. Current-period returns of potatoes and vegetables are higher than the returns to coffee and other perennial crops.

43On the aspect of markets, markets for the major crops grown in the watershed are integrated in regional markets and that farmers in the watershed are price takers in regional and national markets. The finding that upland farmers are price-takers in regional markets makes it clear that any meaningful policy changes would have direct effects on farm-gate prices in the uplands (Coxhead et al, 2001).

44The above findings strongly indicate the importance of national economic policies in determining profitability of alternative crops in the watershed. Along this line, an interdisciplinary analysis of social and economic data together with good quality data on biological and physical aspects of sustainability is required to obtain accurate assessments of the private and community costs of existing practices, and of the feasibility and profitability of potential alternatives.

Some Impacts of Partnerships Initiatives

45The success of natural resource conservation depends on conservation ethic of the community, adaption and adoption of conservation-oriented and productive farming practices, and the development of conservation agreements at the village level (Garrity 1995).

46The Landcare movement, a federation of community organizations developed and led by farmers, was started by ICRAF on 1996 in Claveria, Northern Mindanao. Landcare, an institutional innovation, drove the unexpected farmer adoption of soil conservation technologies and agroforestry (Mercado et al. 2000).

47Landcare approach, which was introduced in Lantapan in 1998, is based on the farmer’s innate interest in learning and sharing knowledge about new technologies like the sloping agricultural land technology (SALT) and natural vegetation strips (NVS) that earn money and conserve natural resources (Garrity and Mercado 1998). The movement is composed of self-governing groups of people concerned about land degradation problems, and interested in working together to do something positive for the long-term health of the land. The movement is continuing to expand rapidly while the municipal and village governments actively and financially support the Landcare groups through annual budgetary allocations.

Economic Aspect

48SANREM-sponsored research revealed that the cultivation and spread of corn and vegetable crops was due to restrictive trade policies and price supports (Coxhead, 1997, 2000). Corn, potato and cabbage have trade protection. Conversely, direct and indirect export taxes on coffee, on important commercial crop in the watershed have discouraged their cultivation (Coxhead, et al, 2001).

49Upland populations relied on agricultural production and gathering of forest products, and were largely subsistence-oriented. The influence of government and the market were relatively weak, indirect and subject to the vagaries of weather and the passability of roads. Land use decisions, land expansion and agricultural technology were, therefore, largely driven by local demographic, economic and biophysical conditions (Coxhead et al, 2001). The sustainable use of natural resource depends on the private decisions of primary resource managers, the farmers who are constrained of access to credit, information and technology.

50Decisions concerning the use of upland forest and farm land are influenced by policies. In the Philippines there is evidence of pervasive policy bias in favor of crops such as corn and temperate vegetables whose cultivation is most strongly associated with upland agricultural land degradation, soil erosion and related water pollution. This commodity bias emanates mainly from national-level economic policies. Bukidnon is one of the provinces designated as key production areas (KPAs) for corn in the Philippine government’s Grain Production Enhancement Program (GPEP). Farmers in KPA are eligible for subsidies and supports directed at increasing corn production. As a result, corn accounts for the greatest part of upland agricultural land use (Coxhead et al, 2001).

51The availability of market is also a determinant of corn production in Lantapan (Coxhead et al, 2001). The presence of market would eventually cause farmers to be price-takers. On the other hand, under such scenario, the most effective instruments for promoting sustainable agriculture in uplands would direct interventions such as technology transfer, extension and education. However, only a few farmers have adopted effective soil conservation measures. Since this is related to tenure insecurity there is a need for policy advocacy. Farmers behavior is driven by their desire to maximize the well-being of their household or at best their community. These actions may impose social costs when land tenure laws (legal institutions) are imperfect or absent.

52Policies could be the link between achieving higher incomes and sustaining the productivity of resource base and they are: a package of incentives from the local government units (LGU’s) in terms of tenure and other economic and non-market incentives like providing tax credits for farmers practicing contours and hedgerows, and the giving of interest discount on loans by the banking sector for farmers planting perennials or adopting agroforestry in their domain;  and the need to explore the incentive package that could attract investments by the private sector in the local areas on small village enterprises (Rola et al, 2001).


53The paper gave highlights of some key lessons and processes of natural resource management research oriented toward sustainable development. Participation and inter-institutional collaboration played key roles in defining the process.

54To build local capacity and empower communities, institutions should engage into institutional partnerships. This partnership created new opportunities which helped ensure that research was relevant, sensitive to local conditions, and oriented towards the solution of specific local problems.

55The willingness of village groups to engage and work with local and national institutions helped reduce the project’s vulnerability to local politics. On the other hand, the convergence of interests between the project and the Lantapan municipal government resulted to the creation of a municipal Natural Resource Management and Development Plan (NRMDP).

56Demographic trends, ill-defined land rights and poverty have all contributed to agricultural land area growth and intensification in Lantapan. Farmers in Lantapan municipality are engaged in commercial production. The trade protection for corn and vegetables have been major forces behind land expansion in Lantapan. This relationship implies that efforts to alter resource use patterns that do not acknowledge markets and the influence they play are unlikely to achieve lasting success.

57Commodity market development, along with policy biases, has contributed to the spread of relatively erosive crops such as corn and vegetables. The environmental ill-effects of these crops could be minimized by adoption of appropriate technologies to reduce erosion and preserve soil quality such as providing contours, hedgerows, trees and fallows to plots or parcels. Trees and fallows were the more popular soil conserving practices in the corn area (Rola et al, 2001).

58With the strong support for natural resource management planning and implementation, the grassroots Landcare movement is evolving conservation ethic rapidly within the community.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. Conceptual Framework
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Electronic reference

Herminia C. Tanguilig and Valerio C. Tanguilig, « Institutional aspects of local participation in natural resource management », Field Actions Science Reports [Online], Vol. 3 | 2009, Online since 24 September 2010, connection on 24 March 2017. URL :

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About the authors

Herminia C. Tanguilig

Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, Bacnotan, La Union, Philippines, P.O Box 408, Northgate, QLD, Australia, 4013e-mail:

Valerio C. Tanguilig

Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, Bacnotan, La Union, Philippines, P.O Box 408, Northgate, QLD, Australia, 4013

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