To contribute to the sustainable development of upland communities and foster social justice, the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) and the University of Namur in Belgium are undertaking a five-year research and academic collaborative project starting July 2016 titled “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 (LUCID)” with support from the Académie de Recherche et d’Enseignement supérieur (ARES).
The LUCID project aims to raise awareness of local populations, local and national authorities, and various civil society actors on the social justice implications of land use change in the Philippine uplands. This will be achieved over five years through two key result areas:
- A comprehensive analysis of the economic, social, and cultural dynamics associated with land use change through scholarship grants for 1 PhD, 2 Masters and 2 fellowships; and
- A raised awareness and disseminated results among upland farming households, governments, civil society, and private sector.
The research will be conducted in three provinces representing the three major island groups – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – where high input corn agriculture had been introduced and has since proliferated.
In the Philippine uplands, yellow corn production substantially increased in recent decades, brought on mainly by a massive demand from a burgeoning livestock sector and which has transformed the landscape that can scarcely support this type of crop.
Corn is the second major agricultural crop in the country and posted increasing production trends in the last 12 years, with a steady increase since 2003 (Philippine Statistics Authority 2009). In 2013, a total of 7.4 million metric tons was produced (Philippine Statistics Authority 2014) corresponding to about 2.3 million hectares of planted area, assuming an average of 3.2 metric ton/hectare yield (Bureau of Agricultural Research 2011). Most corn is planted in upland plains and rolling to hilly areas and are generally referred to as upland areas.
This shift in land use is having profound impacts on the socio-economic dynamics of indigenous communities traditionally engaged in subsistence agriculture, as well as the increasing migrant populations practicing commercial agriculture in these areas. The ensuing degradation caused by this land use intensification contributes to the worsening environmental conditions in these fragile upland areas.
Despite the reported economic growth for the Philippines in the last decades, increasing poverty persists with a high relative proportion of the poor belonging to the agriculture sector and with families engaged in corn production among the poorest in the agriculture sector.
Under increasing pressure from traders and because of its economic attractiveness, high-input commercial corn is rapidly replacing traditional corn, a staple food crop of Indigenous Peoples. Once engaged in this new system of agriculture, farmers are extremely vulnerable to crop failures due to pests and extreme weather. And this vulnerability translates to extended periods of hunger for their families and extreme pressure to get into usurious lending practices with the traders or lending partners. For those who have their own lands, they end up selling their lands way below the market value.
The specific point being addressed in this project is how decisions 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 in terms of 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.
The central scientific issue addressed by the project is a thorough understanding of the social, economic, and cultural drivers and the resulting impacts of this shift to HYV corn. To address this main issue, the project will resort to different scientific disciplines, each addressing more specific scientific questions related to the main issue: development economics, social and political philosophy, social anthropology, and geomatics.
This project builds on a long history of successful research partnerships between University of Namur and Catholic University of Louvain (Université catholique de Louvain – UCL) in Belgium and ESSC in the Philippines. A new set of partners have been included from the Philippines – Ateneo de Manila University and Central Mindanao University – to add additional expertise and widen the partnership base locally. Project lessons will be shared with other development cooperation initiatives especially those supported by Belgium. Counterpart contributions will be provided through synergizing outputs and outcomes with other projects funded from other sources.
The LUCID project aims to provide tools to tackle negative impacts of long-term land use change due to high input crops in the uplands. A specific objective is to enhance well-informed decision-making among actors – farmers, traders, civil society and policy-makers – involved in land use change that is due to the planting of high-yielding variety (HYV) corn and promote the establishment of an equitable and environmentally responsible agriculture – and therefore livelihood – in the uplands.
This article is first published on ESSC.