The Forest Building Report 2015
The Forest Building Report 2015:
Once again this year is now coming to a close. And it has been a quick and busy one for the Cordillera Conservation Trust. Each year I write in my end of year report that it has been the busiest year to date and 2015 is no different. We have grown leaps and bounds, expanded our work while also being reminded of our core strengths and passions. 2015 has been about finding an equilibrium for our past work, acknowledging the gains from the past 9 years of CCT’s existence and re-examining how we do conservation in the Philippine Cordillera mountains.
107 Roots and Shoots Nurseries: With 107 active and inactive forest nurseries across 107 elementary and high schools across the province of Benguet and Ifugao we are now actively assessing the impact of this program. Four years since the inception of the Roots and Shoots nurseries we have had numerous success stories across the region such as schools that now sell seedlings as part of their income generating program (i.e. Asokong Pacso in Kabayan) to those whose seedlings are now grown and producing products for the community such as those from our very first nurseries in schools around La Trinidad, and in the remote schools of Tacadang in Kibungan, Lusod, and Tawangan in Kabayan or Bangen in Labey in Ambuklao who now produce coffee from the seedlings which were propagated in their respective Roots and Shoots Nurseries 3-4 years past. But there are also failures, which we have to acknowledge and see what kind of interventions we can do for them such as the schools located above 2000mASL such as the Babalak, Elementary School in Mt. Pulag whose high elevation has become one of the main issues to successful propagation. So 2015 for our Roots and Shoots Nurseries has been about assessing our 107 nurseries to see what works and what doesn’t so as to improve our delivery of services and necessary interventions for these schools in the following years.
The Good Roast Coffee Subscription: With the growth of the coffee seedlings from many of our 107 Roots and Shoots School nurseries we need a market for the produce. This is the reason in 2015 we started The Good Roast a coffee subscription service to provide the best pure Arabica coffee from the region. We will be sourcing much of this coffee from the very schools and communities we work in and purchasing the beans at fair trade prices, as well as ensuring continuous training and quality improvement. This not only provides incomes to the different schools but also to the households in the areas we work in as well. We are hoping that the increase in income from this industry will dissuade entry into less sustainable forms of livelihood and influence communities to go into more agro forestry projects like the Arabica coffee production. This is a direct outgrowth of our Roots and Shoots Nurseries and an evolution of this project.
Landscape Walks Project: Landscape walks is a project that the Cordillera Conservation Trust started in 2015 that creates economic opportunities for remote communities by utilizing and developing trail systems in the Cordillera Mountains for hut to hut trekking that will both provide economic opportunities for the locals through board and lodging for tourists through homestays, trail maintenance, guides, and porters while preserving large swathes of landscapes throughout these areas by inducing a move from unsustainable economies to an economy that is based on the local ecosystems conservation.
This will act as the carrot to induce villages and communities to choose conservation rather than unsustainable paths to development. We realize that we must look at the human element of conservation and understand that everyone wants to work hard to better their place in life and give a good future for their families. This way we can help them do just that while preserving our beautiful landscapes for future generations to enjoy.
We have started with initial mappings of trails around Kibungan and Bakun as well as those around Mt. Pulag and hope to be able to mark and inaugurate the first Landscape Walk in Kibungan and Bakun in 2016.
Homestay Development: A vital component of developing our outdoor areas is to create ways in which mountain communities can access the outdoor economy. Traditionally in the Philippines this is to require mandatory guides, porters, as well as impose entrance fees. But we have found that this does not fully access the outdoor economy of the wild spaces, rather is worth only 10% of what the outdoor economy can provide and often cannot fully provide for the needs of local communities thus they will still need to resort to unsustainable sources of livelihood such as commercial farming and logging. Developing homestays and their associated industries such as food catering and cafes can increase household incomes 1000% from business as usual making the outdoor economy a viable alternative to commercial agriculture even without the fees and mandatory guides. In 2014 we started with one homestay in Babadak which has now evolved in the span of just one year into a very successful enterprise that leads it’s own tours, takes in numerous clients, as well as caters food for groups. The family who owns it is already transitioning from a farm based economy of their parents to being full-fledged outdoor entrepreneurs with only a small backyard farm for their own household needs. From the success of this first homestay we conducted a homestay training program together with the University of Baguio School of Hotel and Restaurant Management and Globe Telecom for 53 women from Babalak in September 2015 in order to equip them with the knowledge and tools to put up their own homestays. By our estimate if all the households convert their homes into homestays we can increase household incomes by 1000% a week with the current volume of trekkers on the mountain. This will not only raise incomes preventing further encroachment into the National Park but also reduce the impact of trekkers on the mountain, as human waste will be avoided in the grassland as well as lower trampling since lower volumes of camping will occur resulting in a regeneration of the camping areas.
Adventure Developers: We have come to realize that at the very core the Cordillera Conservation Trust was built by people who love the outdoors, we believe that being outside makes our lives better and by bringing more people outside we are not only making their lives better but also creating value for the wild spaces we want to protect by pointing attention to their beauty, and also by creating economies around outdoor travellers, adventurers, and athletes like us. This value not only is important to adventurers but also for the communities that live within our wild spaces. We have found that we have now become a driver for a certain type of development, a certain culture, and mentality that not only creates opportunities for people to experience the wild spaces, the remote, the rough but also for communities to earn from the wild space untouched and pristine. This creates a culture wherein not only the value of timber, water, or land is seen as important but the value of unspoiled beauty, wildlife, solitude, and spiritual renewal as well.
We essentially have become every bit an outdoor brand and are now in a position to be drivers for adventure development. We are not your typical NGO that gives trainings (although we still do that), give lectures on waste management, or publishes papers and books, or simply an organization that plants trees. We realize now that we are good at being outside, creating outdoor experiences, and making the outdoor wild spaces a viable enterprise for all. At heart we are adventurers and explorers and not office bound desktop jockeys and this is the type of development and culture we would like to propagate in the Philippines and in the communities we work in.
As evidence of this we have found that in the 6 years we have been conducting the Globe Cordillera Challenge MTB Ride we have created a culture of riders willing to explore the remote spaces of our mountains and made our routes regular biking routes for the riders and communities, continuing their value way past the one day event and providing continued economic benefits for the communities from adventure travellers.
Since the very first Globe Cordillera Challenge in 2010 the 6 routes of the GCC have seen a tourist influx 1000% higher than business as usual bringing in over 5000 adventure travellers into our wild spaces and remote villages creating a new type of outdoor economy. Now places like Pasdong, Naguey, Taba-ao, Labey, Boklawan, etc… are no longer just places for locals of these villages but are now known internationally as mountain biking destinations. Post event we have bike packers, local riders, and even foreign bikers returning to these beautiful areas because now they know that they exist.
The Globe Cordillera Challenge in fact was not simply an event that raised funds for our seedling nurseries –it in itself was the development project that spurred local and international adventure tourism and created value for all these remote wild spaces.
In March 2015 we launched the first Cordillera Mountain Marathon and raised the status of Mt. Pulag as a premiere trail running destination in the Philippines. It was not only a resounding success with the trail running community but also internationally. It was featured in Asia trail magazine and the 32 foreign runners from countries as far as Ireland and the United Kingdom raised the status of the area as a destination through social media. This resulted in a marked increase in foreign tourist arrivals even post Cordillera Mountain Marathon. The event was also recognized by the Asia Trail Masters series and is now a part of an International Series of Trail running events spanning the Asian continent from Kazakhstan, Nepal, China, Japan, Philippines, etc… creating further value for the mountain and it’s surrounding as a adventure travel destination. Further the event through our sustainable event management framework was able to create over 200 jobs for the remote communities of Lusod, Danggo, and Balete as well as surrounding Babalak, Ambangeg, and Bokod. And brought in a collective benefit in economic windfall of 449,949 Pesos to the communities surrounding Mt. Pulag showing that conservation works and if you keep it wild and do not build then nature can provide. CMM FULL REPORT
It is unfortunate though that months after the event gossip got the better part of common sense and facts. This is though a reality in working in development for communities, and is something we will need to deal with in the future through continued education and more appropriate messaging, we treat this as a vital learning experience in which we can further improve our work and commit to creating value for those wild spaces and communities that need it.
The Cordillera Epic: To end the year on a high note, we started the very first multi-stage MTB race in the Philippines in partnership with Adrenaline Multisport group, something that can rival the Cape Epic of South Africa or La Ruta in Costa Rica. This race put together the routes of the past 6 years of the Globe Cordillera Challenge into a 3 day race spanning over 200 kilometers and 10,000m of elevation loss and gain. By far the Cordillera Epic is the highlight of the Philippine Mountain Biking scene this year and is set to grow into an international event in the coming years. We look forward to a bigger international race in 2016.
The CCT Adventure Team: As part of our thrust into adventure we also started the CCT Adventure team in 2015 composed of adventure athletes who love the mountains. Koi Grey, Harry Tanoja, George Killo, Roland Wang, Mel Quinones, have in the last year inspired countless others to pursue a life outdoors through their activities from Roland finishing the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc to Koi’s multiple mountain trail running wins and generally be the awesome adventurers that they are. They live the dream, the culture that we want to propagate in this country of adventurers and explorers and serve as our inspirations.
In 2016 and in the following years we commit to creating more adventures for adventure seekers and communities. This will become one of the core programs of CCT driving development in the way we see adventure and creating an outdoor culture for our country that will not only translate to more awareness but also a larger constituency of outdoor advocates across the nation and even internationally. Access to the outdoors, outdoor experiences, and adventure development the three things we will be focusing on in the following years.
As always each year will bring new challenges to our work and we look forward to taking these on. 2016 is the tenth year of our existence. Since the first Cordillera Traverse in 2005 we have evolved and yet this year we also look back at those beginnings as we start on a path of adventure development for the future, that is where we began and in our 10th year that is where we will be moving forward to. With new directions in 2016 we will be moving into both old and new territory. We look forward to further strengthening partnerships that have endured over time and forging new ones Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Education, Globe Telecom, Meralco, Spyder Philippines, Berghaus, Holcim, Non-pareil, DOTPH, Coca-Cola, Global Criterion, Globe-Business, Eyeworx, Hill Station, Cordillera Coffee, Café Maleng-ag, GRID Magazine, TrangkoPH, Frontrunner, Multisport Magazine, DAN’S PH, NUUN, Adrenaline Multisport and of course our Forest Building volunteers who are now legion caring for our forests as well as being adventurers themselves.
Next year will be another epic year! Get outside and explore there are a lot of wild spaces out there! See you in 2016!
From your local wild spaces,
Chief Forest Builder
Cordillera Conservation Trust