Filipinos move uphill, forests beware!

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In the 1950s, forest covered one third of the Philippines. Most of that was old-growth dipterocarp forest. Today, less than half of that forest remains. The overwhelming majority of what’s left is severely degraded or young second-growth forest. In less than two generations the country has practically exhausted its’ timber supply and caused extensive damage to its’

natural habitats.

First, logging companies exploited the forests. Then small farmers cleared them to grow crops. “Population Pressure, Poverty, and Deforestation: Philippines Case Study”, by Maria Cruz of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), analyzes the forces driving small farmers into the forest and what can be done to stem the tide. She concludes that to save the Philippines

remaining forest will require land reform, agricultural credit, family planning, and enforceable property rights for current forest occupants and indigenous communities.

Cruz presents some striking numbers. The population of the forested upland regions rose from 5.8 million in 1950 to 17.5 million in 1990. In the 1980s alone 3.5 million additional people moved to these regions. As a result, the regions’ share of total cultivated area grew from 10% in 1960 to 30% in 1987.

The paper cites an econometric model that shows people migrate to accessible areas that are not too expensive to travel to. The also prefer areas with lots of publicly owned forest. Steep slopes and poor soils do not deter them. Not surprisingly, upland areas with higher average incomes attract more migrants.

Cruz concludes that forest sector policies and protected areas can help conserve the little forest the Philippines has left, but only if they are combined with economic policies that discourage further migration to the uplands. The paper reflects her personal views and not those of the GEF. Hopefully though, her GEF colleagues and other decision makers will take her findings to heart.

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Further reading

To request a free electronic copy of this paper or to send comments or

queries to the author, you can write Maria Cruz at mcruz3@worldbank.org