BAUKO, Mountain Province - After accompanying the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) last August 27-28 in the conduct of its final appraisal mission for implementation of another multi-million project in the Cordillera region, here I am writing my impressions on the things that happened.

During lunch at the Cafe by the Ruins-Baguio on the 28th, Mr. Sana F. K. Jatta, IFAD's Country Program Manager for Asia and the Pacific Division said that he actually had a lot of pressing concerns to attend to in Manila. "However, I did not want to miss this opportunity to come to the Cordillera at this most opportune time, he added." Earlier, IFAD through its Philippines' office arranged with the DENR-CAR and Charm2 Project an itinerary for his team for the conduct of a final appraisal for the INREMP project which he confirmed were very productive. INREMP stands for Integrated Natural Resource and Environmental Management Project.

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The mission had meaningful consultations with officials from DENR-CAR, NEDA-CAR, NCIP-CAR, DAR-CAR and DA-CAR last August 26. These agencies have complimentary and supportive roles to play as a development community in making the project work and succeed. I also joined the group on the 27th to Bauko, Mountain Province.

After a hurried lunch at the Mount Data Hotel, the mission proceeded towards the tri-boundary of Benguet, Ifugao and Mountain Province somewhere in Mt. Pangao, near Monamon Sur, Bauko. Enveloped by fogs and the threat of rains, the mission held meetings with some local residents, barangay officials and officers of a local indigenous people's organization (IPO). An appreciation hike around the tri-boundary site and inside an oak forest in Mount Pangao was undertaken lead by Mr. Manny Pogeyed, Provincial Environment Officer of Mountain Province. IFAD's INREMP mission is about to conclude on top of Mount Pangao that integrates three provinces and whose commitments and future actions are crucial to the success of the INREMP in the Chico Watershed Basin. The watershed sustains the continued flow of water in these provinces, also in Kalinga and all the way to Cagayan in the North.

From Ghana, Mr. Sana joked that he had not encountered a mountain as tall as 50 meters. Braving the slippery hike to the top and into the forest, he just proved that he had a big heart. He had some difficulty in his breathing due perhaps to the thin air. Mr. Pogeyed remarked that up here in the mountains, Mr. Sana must stay longer to condition and allow his lungs to grow bigger into a size that can suck more air for his large bones and tall body frame.

Returning to the Mount Data Hotel past 3 o'clock P.M., the mission was met by the local executives and operatives from Barlig, Bontoc, Sabangan, Sadanga, Sagada, and representatives from the provincial local government units of Mountain Province and Kalinga for another round of consultations. The consultations did not only validate or complement the findings of previous missions on the implementation of the INREMP. This gathered community of leaders and representatives from the concerned communities and organizations shared their views on how the Chico Watershed Basin and its services are integrated; and how thoughts and actions by the stakeholders must integrate, support and complement each other. The way the discussions went, INREMP was perceived to support this thrust of enhancing integrated capacities and capabilities to help meet needs on livelihood development and the saving and protection of the forests by the different LGUs, organizations and tribes within the Chico Watershed Basin.

From Baguio to Mount Data, Mr. Sana saw how agriculture was carried out on the mountainside. At the Philippine Highway System's highest point in Atok, he asked why vegetable gardens were carved on some portions of the mountain and on other portions the forest was allowed to stay. My response was that the terrain has something to do with it. Visiting Mt. Data plateau before embarking on our return trip to Baguio, I quite certain that Mr. Sana was filling in on the details that would satisfy his earlier question. He followed me all the way to where some women farmers were digging and harvesting potatoes. I needed to take photos of a farming activity in progress but Mr. Sana confessed he needed to touch and dirty his hands. While our companions watched and waited above the road, Mr. Sana dug the soil and interviewed the farmers, all women.

Before he left and over lunch, I returned to Mr. Sana, his question that I felt remained unsettled. Why do farmers carve the mountainsides and clear the top of the mountains? He simply returned it back and instead asked what I think. I told him what the old woman explained to me at the Mount Data Plateau before he arrived. "You know son, people have to farm and survive somehow. In these mountains good lands for farming are limited. Where there is soil to be dug, whether it is stiff or flat, we must toil it and produce food. I don't know why that could be bad. That point and the terrain of the land need to seep into the consciousness of development planning. Cannot the top flat lands and the valley bottoms be freely allowed for farming while the steep middle portions of the mountains are restricted from human interventions for forest and watershed uses? In between a hearty laughter, Mr. Sana said, "that is a good fundamental point" but wondered just how DENR views it. I wonder myself and shifted my thoughts on a recommendation to the mission for the fencing of the Pangao watershed that may yet end up as a more acceptable development option to the DENR. They followed this strategy on the opposite side of this watershed.

Anyways, I think and hope, we are more agreed in empowering local communities to plan, protect and conserve the forest together as their own and for their own common benefit as the better option. Under the situation, the community knows who is destroying the forest. Convinced about what their forest means to them and their lives, committed, empowered and united action can directly stop or invite outside help against all or any violation against their forest. That too, I hope, is a fundamental point.

There, as they had previously done before under HADP and the first phase of the concluded CHARM Project, the ADB-IFAD is again united in supporting this INREMP project to have a meaningful impact in this quest.

That is another fundamental and interesting point that should encouraging us all at our levels to complement one another to mitigate common needs and interests that are with the protection and care of our watersheds.