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Reflections on the development of Landcare in the Philippines: old hat or new beginnings?

John Muir1, Christine Rinehart 2, and Noel Vock 3.

1 Barung Landcare Association
2 Department of Natural Resources, Queensland
3 Department of Primary Industries, Queensland


The Philippines – Australia Landcare Project is a four-year project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to support the development of Landcare in three upland communities on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The project aims to assist two locally-based development organisations, International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) and South East Asian Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), to implement and test a locally-developed Landcare system at the community level. The important objective of the project is to evaluate the effectiveness of the Landcare approach in improving adoption of resource conservation practices, in reducing resource degradation, and in providing guidance in the future development and delivery of extension services to landholders. The other key objective is to study the processes of ‘scaling-up’ the Landcare concept from the individual village level to the village group level and then on to broader municipal and provincial levels.

The project represents something of a new research direction for ACIAR, which has previously funded considerable research on the technologies of land management and resource degradation in the Philippines. This project is different in that the research is solely directed at better understanding the complex processes of landholders’ interaction with conservation technologies, using the Australian Landcare approach as the guiding principle. To effectively service the Philippines collaborators with the broad experience of Australian Landcare, the Australian project support team consists of representatives from Queensland Government (Department of Primary Industries and Department of Natural Resources, the grass-roots Landcare movement (Barung Landcare Association, Maleny) and social evaluation specialists (University of Queensland).

Landcare type approaches are of course not new in the Philippines. Over recent years, there have been numerous community development initiatives to address natural resource management issues. The major Philippines-based partner in the project, ICRAF, has pioneered the development of community-led organisations in improving farm sustainability, in particular enhancing the use of timber, forage and fruit trees in farming systems. What is new in this project is the collaboration between such organisations and the Australian Landcare movement, which has had over 12 years of experience in working with communities on resource management issues. Through the connection with Australia, ICRAF, SEARCA and other Philippines agencies have now adopted the term Landcare to provide their community-based initiatives with a new identity. The synergy obtained through this collaboration is also reaping other benefits. For example, the Spanish Government, through its Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) has joined the Philippines Landcare initiative with major funding for scaling-up Landcare beyond the three project sites, as well as supporting the establishment of a Philippines Landcare Trust Fund and communication and training programs.

By this process of agencies collaborating to harness a range of expertise and supporting local organisations in working with communities, it is hoped that Landcare can make some real impact on improving the livelihoods of the rural poor as well as creating a more sustainable environment.

Purpose of this paper

Although the jury is still out on the overall impact of Landcare on Australia’s resource degradation problems, by any measure it has been an incredibly successful social and environmental phenomenon. Although there have been some successful ‘exports’ of Australian Landcare overseas, such as the pioneering efforts of Agwest and the Secretariat for International Landcare in South Africa, one wonders why it has not achieved more international interest. As the Philippines-Australia Landcare Project represents another major adaptation of Landcare internationally, it was felt that some reflections on the process to date would be useful to other Australians considering an investment in international Landcare. To do this in a thorough way, we have used the reflective thinking process of Edward de Bono’s ‘six thinking hats’.

The de Bono concept uses six different coloured hats to represent six different disciplines of thought.

It provides an effective structure for reflection because it helps to explore the issue in a structured manner. It enables the thinker to use one thinking mode (coloured hat) at a time, instead of trying to think of everything at once. This ensures that the issue is explored and analysed in both a non-emotive and multi dimensional fashion.

To produce this paper, three Australian members of the project team worked through the de Bono thinking process. This involved firstly a quick brainstorming session on each thinking hat, collecting instinctive and intuitive responses with no initial justification or substantiation. These responses were later refined based on a more in-depth reflection and discussion. The process allowed each member to take away one or two hats to refine on their own for subsequent group discussion. The blue hat was completed last, becoming a summary and synthesis of the other hats.

A few qualifications to the paper and process are necessary. Firstly, as the Philippines project is only nearing its mid point, the reflections are based on observations and experiences from a relatively short period of interaction. These will obviously mature as the project moves from its predominantly operational phase to its more evaluative and reflective phase. Secondly, the reflections represent the observations and experiences of three of the Australian personnel involved in the project. They are not necessarily representative of the views of our Filipino collaborators. Thirdly, the reflections have been distilled down to a few good examples within each of the six thinking hats. They are not meant to be a comprehensive coverage of all the learnings and reflections so far achieved from the project.

De Bono hat reflections

White hat reflections (information, facts and figures)

  • Through the collective efforts of the major partners in the initiative, ICRAF, SEARCA, AECI and ACIAR, the three project sites now support eight full-time Landcare facilitators, over 10 part-time Landcare interns as well as support specialists such as a training coordinator and communications officer.
  • The Landcare partners have developed and are in the process of delivering a multi-level training program for the Landcare facilitators. This includes on the job training, a preliminary facilitation workshop for staff, a 10-day study tour of Australian Landcare and the provision of two stages of an information resource pack of Australian Landcare materials. The study tour of Australian Landcare deserves special mention. It involved 35 participants from six Asian countries, and included 22 participants from Philippines Landcare. The tour required the equivalent of over AUD175 000, which was mobilised from eight funding providers including ACIAR. The tour visited two states and included 16 farm sites, five Landcare groups, an Open Space Forum, the National Landcare Awards function and the First International Landcare Conference.
  • At each project site, a Landcare Advisory group with widespread community representation from farmer groups, local government, government line agencies and NGO’s has been established. The Bukidnon Landcare Professional Group also taps into private industry corporate support.
  • Landcare groups at the three sites now number over 380 including 275 at Claveria, 75 at Lantapan and 30 at Ned. Over 4000 households are involved in Landcare groups at the three sites. The Landcare groups are involved in a wide range of group activities including public land rehabilitation, ‘Waterwatch’ type programs, meeting house construction, farmer field schools, farmer cross-visits, group nurseries, and a Landcare festival. Landcare also has its own custom-built Landcare jeepney for transporting farmer groups on cross-visits to other sites.
  • Scaling up operations have commenced at the Claveria and Lantapan sites. At Claveria, Landcare is being incrementally expanded into sites in eight new municipalities of Misamis Oriental. In Lantapan, scaling up is well advanced in the municipality of Manolo Fortich where eight new Landcare groups have been formed.

Yellow hat reflections (benefits, values, advantages)

  • A major benefit of the project has been the synergy produced from bringing together a large and diverse team of capable and highly committed people working in partnership on this new initiative. This has already had significant effects, ranging from a greater than expected local and provincial government support through to the major complementary Spanish Government initiative (under AECI), which has effectively doubled the funding and human resources available to Landcare. More recently, the project has achieved the placement of an experienced Australian Landcare volunteer at one of the sites through collaboration with ICRAF and Australian Volunteers International (AVI).
  • At the farmer level, the benefits of being involved in Landcare have already produced significant effects both within the initial scope of improved land and water management as well as improved social capital. On the land and water management front, between one-third and one half of the 4000 Landcare group members have already adopted some conservation technologies such as natural vegetation strips (NVS) and agroforestry. Collectively, this represents the protection of over 1000 hectares of cultivated land, much of which is at extreme risk of degradation. On the social capital front, involvement in Landcare groups has seen broad community action on a range of livelihood issues. These include the development of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens to improve family nutrition, installation of toilets and water storages to improve hygiene, development of communal plant nurseries to provide planting stock, collective rehabilitation of riparian corridors and public lands, and collective purchasing of draught animals. Landcare groups are monitoring group progress through the use of monitoring boards installed in public meeting houses. An example of the extent of achievement is the Baclayon Landcare Association, a district federation of 63 Landcare groups in Lantapan who is currently establishing at one central site a multi-purpose training centre, collective nursery and demonstration farm. Also in Lantapan, a group of farmers farming without land tenure in the buffer zone of the Mt Kitanglad National Park, have been facilitated through the Landcare process to collectivise their resources and implement conservation practices as a means of achieving possible tenurial status through a Community Based Forest Agreement.
  • As mentioned earlier, the project was conceived not as an ‘export’ of Australian Landcare to the Philippines, but as support to the local organisations and communities in developing their own unique local version of Landcare. In this context, it was always envisaged that there would be significant learnings both ways. However, the project team has been surprised at the extent of new learning for Australian Landcare from the Philippines experience. This provides a wonderful opportunity to improve Australian Landcare at a time, following the Decade of Landcare, when it is seeking new ideas and directions. Significant learnings to date have been the way in which facilitator experiences are being harnessed into training packages for new facilitators, the structured capture of anecdotal experiences from facilitators and others, the experiences of a specialised Landcare radio program, and the involvement of urban professionals in supporting Landcare with specialised skills. The project has also identified the benefit of involving a ‘real-life’ Australian Landcare group (Barung Landcare, Maleny) in the Philippines operation of the project, rather than relying just on second-hand experience.
  • As the focus of the research for the project is on measuring impacts of Landcare in both a physical and social sense, much thought has been put into developing appropriate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) processes. A major benefit has been the development of an advanced, yet dynamic monitoring and evaluation framework using a site characterisation or benchmarking procedure followed by on-going participatory data collection across issues of adoption, group empowerment and environmental impacts.

Black hat reflections (caution, risks, constraints)

  • There is a risk that the demand for Landcare development will outstrip the supply of experienced Landcare personnel. Already there have been heavy demands on Landcare facilitators to scale-up Landcare to new areas outside the project sites and to train new facilitation personnel from interested organisations, while maintaining their commitments to existing programs. This places considerable pressure on these facilitators and ‘burnout’ is a serious risk. To offset this, scaling-up needs to be strategically planned to better match demand with the supply of facilitator services.
  • There is a risk that too much may be expected of Landcare in solving Philippines environmental problems, particularly given their perceptions of its spectacular success in Australia. To be most effective, Landcare will need to be well adapted to local culture, needs, skills and capacity. Landcare groups will also need to avoid strong dependency on the facilitators, and develop their own local ownership and leadership.
  • Given the enthusiasm and demand for quick action of the Philippines Landcare movement, there is a danger that the Australian project team has launched into the project without sufficient conscious reflection and review of previous international Landcare experiences such as those in South Africa.
  • In the recording of group social experiences, gender issues need to be examined in a rigorous way. There is a danger that male experience and feedback may dominate the recorded data. Also, in the recording of attitudes and views on Landcare, the perspective of different stakeholders needs to be taken into account and carefully analysed. As in Australia, lack of interest in Landcare may come from a view that it is just another new trendy methodology from the West, or that it threatens currently-held roles of ‘top-down’ extension. Some will also embrace it for the wrong reasons such as political advantage and access to funding.
  • There are concerns that Landcare in the Philippines lacks the bipartisan political support which was a feature of the early development of Australian Landcare. Although this may evolve in time as community ownership and participation grows to the point where it becomes embedded in the political process, Landcare in the short term could become a political football to satisfy the competing whims and funding priorities of opposing politicians.

Red hat reflections (intuition, feelings, hunches)

  • The nature of Philippines society and culture provide both advantages and disadvantages for the project. On the one hand, the ‘People Power’ movements have people naturally predisposed to embrace bottom-up, grass-roots organisational approaches such as Landcare. A strong advocacy role backed up by strong existing religious and family institutions enhances this even further. However on the other hand, the great passion and commitment to environmental issues exhibited by the facilitators and support staff and the enormity of the problem means that overwork, burnout and resolution of personal conflict are major issues that need to be carefully managed.
  • In a similar vein, the Filipinos have been prominent in taking innovative approaches to addressing local problems, whether it is ‘Clean and Green’ city initiatives, ‘Smokecare’, leadership, advocacy roles or capacity building and training. By working alongside them in teaching and learning experiences about Landcare, Australians have been impressed by their capacity and dedication to forging their own version of Landcare. The Australians have also been thankful for the partnership experiences because of the deeper appreciation and understanding of Australian Landcare that it has offered.
  • Thanks to seed funding from AusAID, a local Philippines Extension Network (PEN) organisation, similar to that of APEN, has been initiated with facilitation support from APEN. This initiative has progressed rapidly since its inauguration in March 2001. It shows great potential for supporting the professional needs of extension staff, including Landcare facilitators.

Green hat reflections (alternatives, creative possibilities)

  • There has been a growing collective ownership of Landcare amongst LGU’s, government line agencies and NGO’s, with the beginning of an integration of Landcare into extension programs, local government ordinances and funding programs. Organisations now involved in Landcare activities and programs at the three sites include municipal agriculture offices (MAO’s), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), private business and NGO’s such as the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Centre. There are signs that it is becoming more prominent in influencing the future programs of these organisations. There is also some progress towards restructuring along the catchment management model, not dissimilar to that in Australia. This has resulted from the observed success of Landcare and watershed type initiatives at the municipal level in several Landcare project areas. This has recently been given some impetus by a recommendation from the AusAID Philippines Participatory Livelihoods Improvement Study that development of extension services follow a community-based group development model, similar to Landcare.
  • Landcare developments in the Philippines have also captured some interest from other countries in south east Asia. Representatives from several countries have visited both the Philippines and Australia to explore Landcare, and some have commenced small-scale pilot Landcare-type initiatives. This has the potential to fuel a new wave of a more appropriate and ‘Greener – Green Revolution’ community development process.

Blue hat reflections (overview, focus, conclusions)

  • Some solid groundwork has been completed for the Landcare initiative in the Philippines in the few short years since its introduction. The strength of this can be gauged from the multiple collaborating partners, the complementary initiatives that have evolved, the more than 380 Landcare groups, the 20 Landcare facilitators and support staff, and the active involvement of government and non-government organisations.
  • Early benefits appear promising with improved adoption of conservation practices and a wide range of group social benefits in both food security and lifestyle issues. Benefits are also flowing back to Australia with learnings and experiences that may significantly enhance the future of Australian Landcare.
  • A number of problems need addressing and it is important that these are not lost in the hype that surrounds the enthusiastic pursuit of the concept. These include burnout of Landcare facilitators, a more rigorous analysis of gender issues, maintenance of the focus on local ownership and adaptation, and a need to reflect more on the appropriate use of Australian expertise.
  • The nature and structure of Philippines society and the peoples’ innovation in tackling local issues means that community-based and driven initiatives such as Landcare have greater potential for success. The early signs of institutional change, particularly by government, in accommodating community-based group development initiatives such as Landcare is also promising. However, a lack of political bipartisanship appears to be a possible barrier to its potential impact in the longer term.
  • Interest in Landcare in other Asian countries exists, but the potential for similar outcomes to those in the Philippines has yet to be established.

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