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Palawan: Stop Blaming Indigenous Peoples’ Farming Practices (Kaingin) for Deforestation
Look Instead to Boom Crops, Oil Palm Plantations and Mining
April 28, 2015
by Coalition against Land Grabbing and United Tribes of Palawan
Batak ancestral land, sustainably managed through traditional kaingin practices
Recent years have seen an exponential increase in land deals across the Philippines with the conversion of large expanses of land with crops mainly intended for export. Meanwhile, traditional upland farming practices implemented through swidden (‘slash-and-burn’) technology–known locally as kaingin or more appropriately uma–are demonized and antagonized through restrictive legislation. This is despite the fact that the latter fosters local self-sufficiency and plays a fundamental role in the livelihoods and worldviews of Indigenous societies.
Palawan, known as the “Philippine last Frontier”, in spite of its unique recognition as a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve, has not been spared from massive investments in extractive resources and industrial agriculture, especially oil palm and rubber. And yet, Indigenous Peoples and upland dwellers continue to be blamed for causing massive deforestation and ecological disaster.
Not surprisingly, the recent front cover of a well known Philippine Newspaper (The Daily Inquirer, May 9 issue) holds a headline accompanied by a powerful image that easily conflates all upland peoples as criminal agriculturalists.
“Images are powerful and can be damaging,” says Wolfram Dressler, a Research Fellow from the University of Melbourne (Australia), who has carried out extensive anthropological research in Palawan. “They can direct blame without nuance and context. The masses (and government) absorb such images to reinforce centuries-old narratives demonizing kaingin—a term that many farmers avoid because of its pejorative nature,” Dressler adds.
The Inquirer‘s article was triggered by an aerial survey carried out by the Center for Sustainability (CS), a nonprofit organization that supposedly works for sustainable development in Palawan. The group spotted key locations from the air, previously covered by forest, which have now been cleared as a result of external forces such as mining, oil palm plantation development and shifting agriculture. According to the group, in addition to clearing by ‘poor farmers’, forest burning in the south has been linked to the proliferation of palm oil and rubber plantations, and the main target of ‘slash-and-burn’ activities is the clearing of primary forests for development.
Ironically, for carrying out its photo survey, CS conservationists borrowed the private plane of multimillionaire Jose Alvarez, the present Governor of Palawan, who is a well-known supporter of large-scale agro-industry development (especially rubber which accelerates deforestation and deprives more traditional indigenous communities of their resource-base). He is a member of the same family that logged Northern Palawan’s forest in the eighties. He also chairs the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). In principle, this government body is mandated to ensure the sustainable development of the whole province through the implementation of a Strategic Environmental Plan or SEP (R.A. Republic Act 7611). Under the SEP, no development project should take place in Palawan unless the proponents secure a so-called SEP clearance. In reality, massive oil palm expansion and related forest clearing takes place without the requisite SEP clearance.
Massive forest clearing for oil palm plantations in Sandoval, Municipality of Bataraza