The way forward

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Monday, January 13, 2014


MY 2014 wish list is to raise sustainable mountain development (SMD) high on the policy agenda. International SMD literature emphasizes extreme poverty --that is largely felt in the uplands. This was repeatedly pointed out during last year’s Addressing Poverty and Vulnerability Conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal. Speakers after speakers touched on making a green mountain economy more socially inclusive.

Despite a high degree of self-reliance, increasing uncertainties, inadequate and insecure access to resources, technology, and finance, a rapidly degrading natural resource base, and insufficient integration into value chains and markets severely compromise the capacities of mountain communities to effectively deal with change and take advantage of emerging opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty.

In the case of Negros Occidental, how can the provincial government address social exclusion in the development pie among mountain communities? I had opportunities to talk to the Alliance of Negrense Tourism Stakeholders Inc. (ANTS). My thanks to ANTS member Darlene Casiano for the weekend brainstorming.

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We agreed that developing a socially inclusive mountain green economy has to be a State obligation. The first step is to make SMD a State obligation covered with a provincial ordinance that would include green tourism and non-timber forest product (NTFP) development, together with mountain organic agriculture.

In the pipeline for NTFP development is the private-sector led bamboo development. Some planters see the economic potential of creating value additions to the natural resource. Move over, sugarcane.

Green mountain tourism development can be designed to support the local economy and reduce poverty. As the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Tourism Organization stressed in 2011, “Local economic effects of tourism are determined by the share of tourism spending in the local economy as well as the amount of the resulting indirect economic activities.”

Increasing the involvement of local communities, especially the poor, in the tourism value chain can contribute to local economy development and to poverty reduction. Mountain souvenir products following the heels of mountain tourism significantly contribute to the economies of Baguio and Cusco, Perú, 4,200 meters above sea level, mountain cities that I have been privileged to visit.

Over time, the State can reduce public investment requirement in conservation and restoration of mountain forests and watersheds that provide ecosystem services essential for the foundation of economic activities and for human survival.

The value of ecosystems for tourists remains undervalued in many cases.

Investment in cultural heritage — the largest single component of consumer demand for sustainable tourism — is among the most significant and usually profitable investments.

Green tourism and NTFPs could potentially even eliminate or minimize timber poaching if charcoal makers find them more lucrative and safer.

Take a look at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan. Located in a limestone mountain landscape, the Park has been declared a World Heritage Site, a Biosphere Reserve, a Ramsar Site, an Important Bird Area, and lately one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The site is competing with Boracay, and certainly draws more tourists than our current Sugarlandia heritage tours.

Can the provincial government rise to the challenge of institutionalizing a mountain green economy, the first in Southeast Asia and at par with those of Switzerland, France, and Italy, the USA and Canada? Can the Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit play a lead role on this?

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 13, 2014.

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