DENR, USAID unveil new biodiversity conservation project

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is collaborating with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to enhance the protection and conservation of the country's rich biological diversity.

The DENR and USAID on Monday launched the Protect Wildlife Project, a five-year, P1.2-billion initiative that seeks to address biodiversity loss and rampant wildlife trafficking in the Philippines.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez and US Ambassador Sung Kim led the launch of the newest biodiversity conservation project in the country, held at Sequoia Hotel in Quezon City on March 6.

The event, co-organized by the USAID and the DENR's Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), was part of the World Wildlife Day celebration on March 3.

Amb. Kim said that the project was part of the continuing collaboration between the two governments, along with the private sector, civil society, and individual communities to strengthen natural and environmental resource management in the country.

“It will demonstrate that protecting and managing the Philippines’ diverse habitats and species lead to improved quality of life and sustainable development,” he said.

“’Protect wildlife’ is not only the name of our project. It is also the imperative for all of us to take care of the species with which we share the planet,” he added.

Lopez lauded the project’s tagline stating, “Conservation is not protecting nature from people. It is protecting nature for people.”

She reiterated that the perspective of the DENR under her leadership was area development, and making sure that the resources, especially its flora and fauna, in an area are enjoyed by the people themselves.

Noting that the species is home to a high level of endemicity, Lopez said that nurturing the country’s endemic species was the country’s contribution to humanity.

“Wildlife is therefore an integral part of developing areas. Taking care of them will give us great ecotourism zones that can help people in the communities and lift them out of poverty,” she stated.

According to BMB Director Theresa Mundita Lim, the Protect Wildlife Project would also focus on improving benefits provided by ecosystems for food, water, livelihood and ecotourism.
"With the Philippines being both one of the world’s most megadiverse countries and a critical biodiversity hotspot, we need to see how we can communicate development programs more effectively so that people will appreciate better the benefits of conservation," Lim said.

Lim said that among the strategies to be used in the project include improving the attitude and behavior of stakeholders toward biodiversity, and intensifying their involvement in conserving and financing biodiversity initiatives.

The project will also enhance the competencies of stakeholders and implementers such as local government units, civil society organizations, the academe, and other government agencies on biodiversity conservation.

Two pilot areas have been selected for the project. These are the Palawan province including Tubbataha Reef, and the Sulu Archipelago including Zamboanga City and Tawi-Tawi province.

The USAID will ensure that the project’s impact is sustained by using an ecosystem approach in addressing threats to biodiversity within the sites. This would enable the local community to have a strong sense of ownership and promptly adapt to lessons they learn from the project.

Lim said the project also highlights the need to fight threats posed by wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing, land use conversion, irresponsible mining, and indifference of stakeholders.

"The more habitats deteriorate and wildlife existence is endangered, the less we benefit from the goods and services that ecosystems provide to sustain human life," Lim pointed out. ### 

Lopez sets ball rolling for biochar program

Secretary Gina Lopez has issued the policy guidelines for two important initiatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that both aimed at providing local communities with sustainable livelihood opportunities while protecting the environment.

Lopez defines SIAD as "an approach, a strategy and a guiding philosophy that weaves environmental considerations with social justice and human development."

In DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2017-02 she issued, Lopez said the SIAD strategy aims to apply area-based interventions, concepts on its natural resources development programs including the Enhanced National Greening Program (eNGP), and integrated island development. eNGP is a massive reforestation program of the government that doubles as investments towards sustainable community enterprise.

Lopez said SIAD will cover, but is not limited to, river basins and watersheds, and will be initially implemented within 29 priority sites and expansion areas identified by the DENR last year.

"Beginning this year, SIAD shall be implemented in other areas of the Philippines as long as the implementers follow our guidelines and the principles behind this strategy," Lopez added.

According to the DENR chief, SIAD is pursuant to the provisions of the 1987 Constitution on the policy of the State "to protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature" and on the "promotion of social justice and human rights, including the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance."

"This strategy is also in response to the clamor of the Filipino people for a system of governance that will finally reverse centuries' worth of human suffering, environmental desolation, societal discrimination, moral hazard and historical injustice toward activating the full potential of the Philippines within the next 15 years," Lopez pointed out.

DAO 2017-02 calls for the formulation and implementation of a six-year SIAD Action Plan by the government, civil society and the private sector.

In a separate directive, DAO 2017-05, Lopez laid down the guidelines on the implementation of the biochar program, which is one great example of an initiative that uses the SIAD approach.

Lopez said biochar calls for the wise utilization of abundant agricultural waste materials into marketable products created by rural communities for green energy, soil enhancement, mine revegetation, and a host of environmental products and services, making it a remarkable climate change mitigation technology with a poverty alleviation through community enterprise.

Biochar is a charred biomass strictly from agricultural wastes like rice hull and straw, bagasse, pili shell, mango seed, coconut husk and shell and corn cobs, which are produced by high heating (>500oC) with very limited oxygen.

But Lopez clarified in her order that cutting of any trees to serve as raw materials for biochar is "strictly prohibited."

"However, biomass coming from trees such as wood chips, seeds, twigs and branches can be permitted," she added.

Lopez said biochar has 52 known uses, including as feed additive in animal farming, carbon fertilizer, insulator, protection against electromagnetic radiation, water decontaminant, biomass additive, ingredient in cataplasm for insect bites and abcesses, fabric additive for functional underwear, and filling for mattresses and pillows.

Biochar also draws carbon from the atmosphere, providing a carbon sink on agricultural lands. After its initial or cascading use, biochar can be recycled as soil conditioner.

Fully depreciated when finally returned to the soil, the black carbon will slowly build up in the soil -- and over a few generations the soil's biochar content could easily reach 50 to 100 tons per hectare, as in the case of ancient Terra Preta soils.

Earlier, DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations Philip Camara said biochar has strong potential to provide alternative livelihood to local communities given that the country consumes about 22 million cubic meters of wood for fuel and charcoal per year.

The DENR's biochar program aims to remediate perennial environmental problems like unsanitary landfills, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, unsanitary sewage diposal and heavily degraded land from mining and overuse of fertilizer.

It seeks to address the acidification of forestlands, support better survival of seedlings and trees in the government's reforestation program and removal of heavy metals from soils, among others.

Aside from helping mitigate the effects of climate change, the biochar program also aims to create a significant new industry revolving around biochar, its derivative and associative products, promoting community enterprises as the backbone of this new industry. ### 


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