“CAMIGUIN” is supposedly the corrupted version of the province’s “Come again” Island. At least that’s the traditional if hoary story on how the province got its name.

I got here the other day with my other colleagues and partners from the Non-Timber Forest Products-Task Force (NTFP-TF) network. We came all the way from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. I’m the only one from the Visayas though.

To the geographically challenged, we got here by RoRo vessels from Misamis Oriental, after a lengthy trip from Cagayan de Oro, then another ride to Paras Beach Resort, our final destination.

Strange how the NTFP-TF partners ended up in a beach resort. For all its shortcomings like the bad air-con during the hot summer, the place itself provides a good hideaway from distractions.

We came here to assess the years of hard work and investments on NTFPs as alternative sources of livelihood for forest-dependent communities such as indigenous communities such as the Higaonons, Mangyan, Aytas, and civil society organizations who help mountain communities to develop their NTFPs to crash into mainstream markets.

The Nagkakaisang Tribu ng Palawan for one is now selling its wild honey and crafts into Palawan malls, and even within Palawan ports. The Higaonons are dabbling in their native crafts of bags and abaca fibers for the urban market in Cagayan de Oro and even in Metro-Manila. They have even exported their products to France and Italy.

Despite the successes, however, we noted the need to development strategies for convincing different audiences see the role of NTFPs as basis for social enterprises, poverty reduction, and forest conservation.

Forestry concerns in the Philippines—and Southeast Asia, for that matter—are still hung-up on timber resource use. As if the only resource with commercial potential are timber.

I pointed out that in Negros Occidental, charcoal from endemic trees still take center stage for poverty reduction, in the process creating a cat-and-mouse game between law enforcers.

Outside of our NTFP circles, I seldom hear from policy makers from the Provincial Environment Management Office or the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office of the DENR in Negros deal with NTFPs.

During lunch break, I had an interesting discussion with NTFP country director Ruth Canlas. She said unlike India, Nepal, and maybe Pakistan, Southeast Asia still finds NTFP as a strange concept. At best, they think of it as a niche market.

I chimed in that perhaps the NTFP advocates should follow the lead of champions of organic products at a policy level, back up with government financial incentives. Organic agriculture now has its Republic Act (RA 10068), while NTFPs remain a subset of the sustainable forest management bill, languishing in Congress much like the Freedom of Information Act.

Yet the PNoy administration has imposed a total log ban, with no clear provisions on alternative forest resource use to address food security and other needs of largely mountain communities.

The stress now is proving communities with World Bank-funds from the National Greening Program. Since NGP financing is externally driven, I wonder what would happen when Pres. Aquino’s term ends in 2016. Where will these mountain communities get their sources of bread-and-butter?

The way out from avoiding the use of trees they planted would be the promotion of NTFPs—from wild honey, bamboocraft and grasscrafts, rattan products, wood resin. The Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Science and Technology should come out swinging to help communities churn out with winning NTFPs. Quo vadis, forest conservation?

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