Social Justice Implications of Land Use Change in the Philippine Uplands

Analysis of the Socio-Economic Drivers and Impacts on the Land and its People


Despite reported economic growth for the Philippines in the last decades, increasing poverty has become a major concern with a high relative proportion of the poor belonging to the agriculture sector. Corn is the second major agricultural crop in the Philippines, which has posted increasing production trends in the last 12 years. But despite this reported growth, families engaged in corn production are among the poorest in the agriculture sector.

In the Philippine uplands, yellow corn production has increased substantially in recent years. Rise in yellow corn demand from a growing livestock sector has transformed the landscape that can scarcely support this type of crop. This shift in land use is having profound impacts on the socio-economic dynamics of upland communities. Low maintenance, high yielding variety (HYV) corn has attracted small upland farmers due to the promise of high returns, despite many risks such as climate, pests, and environmental factors resulting in crop failures and eventually, an endless cycle of debt.

This context moved LUCID partner institutions to investigate how decisions to change land use are made within households. This is important in that the more a situation is precarious and vulnerable, the greater the chance that decisions are ill-founded, giving rise to adverse consequences to human development. Effects are manifested not only in the socio-economic and cultural situations of the farmers, but also in the local environment in which they live. Land use transformation is thus a major concern since it potentially brings about land degradation, especially in highly intensive agriculture as HYV corn.

What We Do

Conduct a comprehensive analysis of the economic, social, and cultural dynamics associated with land use change.

Build research capacities of faculty members in partner academic institutions through scholarship grants.

Raise awareness and disseminate results among upland farming households, governments, civil society, and private sector.

Understanding the Drivers of Land Use Change

The economic exploitation of small corn farmers appears to be widespread in the Philippines, but in order to gain a better understanding of the extent and magnitude of this phenomenon the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change has engaged with its long-time Belgian university partners, Université de Namur and Université Catholique de Louvain, together with new local partners the Ateneo de Manila University and Central Mindanao University. With the support of l’Académie de recherche et d’enseignement supérieur  (ARES) of the Belgian government, the LUCID (Land Use Change Impacts and Drivers) project was formulated to investigate the socio-economic dynamics and social justice implications of corn cultivation in the Philippines. The five-year project seeks to understand the dynamics of farmer-level decision making in the context of local opportunities and threats in corn cultivation. It also seeks to look at the issues under the lens of social justice and philosophy and how the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities are perpetuated by a small group of rich people who take advantage of supplier perks and discounts while imposing high interest rates on farmers.

Where We Work

The primary area of investigation is in Bukidnon Province in Mindanao with Isabela and Iloilo Provinces in Luzon and the Visayas respectively. The latter provinces will serve as validation for the more intensive research investigations in Bukidnon. As corn cultivation continues to expand in the uplands, it is important to document the extent of its reach and its rate of expansion. This will then give a better idea of how much of the uplands and its forests are at threat.