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PHILIPPINE WORKING GROUP (PWG)
on promotion of localizing natural resource management (NRM)

Collaboration Initiatives towards Comprehensive Landscape Management and Greater Human Security

Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance
South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat

PWG-NRM Alliance Documentation Visit Report

MAKING AN IMPACT Eco-Tourism in Allah Valley (Philippines)
www.lgsp-led.ph | info@lgsp-led.ph | www.canurb.org

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MAKING AN IMPACT Eco-Tourism in Allah Valley (Philippines)


Overview

The Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA) is a multi-stakeholder group comprised of representatives from the province of South Cotabato (municipalities of Lake Sebu, T’boli, Surallah, Sto. Nino, Banga and Norala) and the province of Sultan Kudarat (city of Tacurong, and the municipalities of Isulan, Esperanza, Lambayong and Bagumbayan). The alliance is composed of representatives from the 13 local government units, plus five national government agencies and one NGO Coalition.

The agreement among the parties was signed in 2003, with the local chief executives as the signatories to the memorandum of agreement. AVLDA is an important local initiative, in that it is a collaborative effort between municipalities and provinces, and is focused on the management of a protected landscape that has implications beyond the two provinces. In this sense it has a valuable role and an important contribution. In one sense, the contribution is to greater environmental sustainability, brought about by a more comprehensive and coherent management effort among the different stakeholders in the landscape. In another sense, AVLDA’s effort to work on this very broad level is really helping to strengthen and sustain relationships between local government units that are dealing with actual needs, and not because of any political agenda or nationally driven program.

Formation and Foundations of the Organization

Basically, the AVLDA is a response of local government units to the situation of poor environmental management resulting in increased risk for communities in their areas. Based on the analysis of the project management office of the AVLDA, the formation of the alliance was triggered by intensified flooding events along the Allah and Banga Rivers and massive siltation of the river systems leading to negative impact on infrastructure. Experiences of other natural disasters, such as earthquakes and landslides, led to increased risks and vulnerability especially of the poor communities.

Weak enforcement of national laws, especially those related to environment and natural resource management, is another factor pinpointed as one of the factors that led to the formation of the alliance.

It appears that in many cases of natural management alliances weak policy implementation related to environment compels local government units and other local stakeholders to take matters into their own hands. In the case of AVLDA, provinces and their municipalities that were bearing the brunt of the flooding brought the groups together in order to develop the necessary actions to respond.

The alliance objective is to protect and manage the Allah Valley landscape towards to improve the socio-economic condition of the people.

Design of the Group

Because the Allah Valley Landscape is a proclaimed protected area, there is actually a Protected Area Management Board for the management of the area. The alliance is a parallel group acting more as a comprehensive network of the local government units who are involved in the landscape.

The Board of Directors is the main decision-making arm of the AVLDA. It has an indirect relationship with the PAMB of proclaimed Allah Valley protected landscape and coordinates with them regarding the formulation of plans and programs that the alliance will implement within the Allah Valley. It is responsible for the review and approval of the budget and for adopting policies and regulations for the protection and management of the area.

For the daily operations of the alliance, there is a Project Management Office (PMO). The PMO is the Secretariat of the alliance. It prepares budgets and project proposals for recommendation to the Board, and is also responsible for preparing the work plan, financial report and annual report for the Board.

There is also a technical working group that reviews plans and proposals before submission to the Board. The technical working group is comprised of the different planning officials of the member local government units.

Both the Board and the Technical Working Group meet quarterly.

The Function of the Group

Observations on how the alliance is functioning were made based on attendance at the planning session of the TWG and with meetings with the different groups involved in the alliance.

Based on attendance, it seems that there is already a certain level of commitment to the alliance and a willingness to pursue a plan of action. However some members seem to still have a limited view of what needs to be done and perhaps a limited understanding about what can really be done within a realistic time frame.

Because of limited budgets, local government units (and also local government alliances, like AVLDA) are always on the lookout for projects that can be financed by external partners. There is also a certain preoccupation with projects that have immediate and tangible outputs that they can then use to justify further activities. The problem with this framework is that when working on natural resource management concerns, impact is not immediately tangible after only three years, and this is one of the realities of working with the environment. Investments in building capacity to respond to environmental issues and in appropriate and applicable technologies takes time.

The time element is critical for AVLDA, especially since the memorandum of agreement signed by the different stakeholders expires in 2008. The pressure on local leaders to justify working in an alliance approach is strong, as well as the need to show actual gains from the approach. Hopefully, there is enough support from among the local leaders to warrant a new agreement that will allow t he alliance to continue after 2008.

An existing partnership with ESSC is set to wrap up in early 2007. The focus of this was to build capacity in using existing technologies to help improve local land use planning. One of the main outputs of this partnership was a series of maps illustrating some of the NRM and other related concerns of the Allah Valley landscape as well as the concerns articulated by four pilot communities through community resource mapping. It is not uncommon for people to stop with the maps, to see the maps as the final output. The focus would then be to replicate the process and produce more maps. However, in this case, the maps are meant to serve a larger purpose, to serve as a basis for more informed, relevant and realistic planning. This idea perhaps still needs to sink in with the alliance. In order for them to have real impact and tangible effects, they need to invest time, and they need to be clear in terms of their objective, which is to improve land use planning.

Leadership is an important factor in the success of local alliances, and the chair of the AVLDA Board, Daisy Fuentes (the Governor of South Cotabato), has been instrumental in driving AVLDA and pursuing its agenda. She appears to have a good sense of what needs to be done, but is also under pressure to show that the alliance will indeed benefit to them. This is especially true since the alliance asks a financial contribution from the member LGUs. It is understandable that the members would look for what they would get out of the partnership. Hopefully, it can be clarified that some of the benefits that they are seeking will not be immediately evident, but will contribute to long-term sustainability.

The Group’s Overview and Strategy

The effort of the alliance is to improve land use planning within the protected area in order to help provide greater socio-economic security to communities and reduce the likelihood of natural disasters. The strategy is two-pronged: to work at specific site level with communities, and more broadly at the landscape level as well.

At present, the alliance is seeking to develop and establish the mechanisms that will help them ensure better protection and management of their resources. This is being done through a process of community resource mapping with pilot communities, a process that will then be replicated for other areas and communities. This will give the alliance a good baseline in terms of understanding what the issues are that need to be responded to and from there how to go about addressing those issues.

As for strategy, the alliance has a guiding document in the form of an Environmental Management Plan and a Manual of Operations.

AVLDA’s program has five main focus areas: economic, infrastructure, social development, institution building and environment. There are different components under each focus area. In terms of environment, the components are forest protection and management, river/creek protection and management, lake protection and management and protected area management.

Points of environmental degradation

While the Allah River plays an important role in the socio-economic development of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato provinces, the degrading environment is also cause for great concern. Large-scale cutting of trees and clearing activities in the uplands and along the riverbanks for agriculture purposes has resulted in a weakening of the banks. According to some studies, the forest denudation has increased by 106% resulting in an increased open area within the Allah Valley Watershed Forest Reserve.

Due to increased siltation and erosion, the riverbanks are beginning to cave in and the river to meander, causing much destruction, especially to the communities downstream.

Aside from the concerns on the river, the lakes within the Allah Valley Landscape are also faced with environmental problems, particularly of pollution. Fish cage operations in Lake Sebu expose the lakes to pollution coming from excess feeds that spoil in the water, fish wastes and domestic wastes from residents along the lakes. There are current efforts to rehabilitate the lake and some initial results can already be seen.

Policy to Implement

The memorandum of agreement states that the Board would be responsible for formulating regulations and policies. The Environmental Management Plan provides some guidelines, particularly with respect to the kinds of activities allowed in certain areas of the landscape.

At the same time, the alliance focus was to develop a Master Plan for the landscape. This would set out the development goals for the area as well as provide a framework for the stakeholders to achieve the objectives. However, at present, the plans for this have stalled.

Mechanisms to Activate Change

In terms of having the ability to actually effect change in the management of the landscape, AVLDA is trying to equip itself with the tools that it needs to make changes in the way the resources are used and managed. Some of these are technical tools that will allow them to get a better understanding of their area and the resources within it, and will give each member in the alliance a sense of where they are in relation to their partners. Some are social tools that will give local governments an opportunity to engage in a productive manner with communities that are living within the focus area.

The potential change in the planning process will hopefully be that planning becomes not only a process of making plans on paper, but a process of responding to actual needs. Incorporating communities into protected area management is, in many cases, already a change in approach and way of working. By focusing on these social aspects, local government planning through an alliance can better address livelihoods concerns and contribute to poverty reduction. By improving and developing the capacity for planning, local planning through alliances becomes a mechanism to activate real change, in terms of both the landscape and livelihoods.

Views to Future Sustainability

It is good that at this point in the formation of the alliance, they are focusing on making necessary investments in terms of their human resources (by focusing on training and capacitating local staff). This is something that will serve the alliance well in the long term.

As with all local government alliances, questions of sustainability arise especially around election time. Both provincial governors and municipal mayors serve three years for a maximum of three terms. 2007 is an election year, and there are apprehensions about what a change in leadership will mean for the alliance.

Financial sustainability is also a concern for local alliances. Proposals to seek funding will be an important task of AVLDA. Part of the questions that they must deal with is whether seeking SEC registration at this stage will be a facilitating factor that will allow them to more easily prepare proposals for funding by the donor community. At present, the stakeholders in AVLDA are not satisfied with securing funding from only the financing windows available to government units however, the SEC registration is a pre-requisite to apply for the funding available to non-government organizations.

One of the options that AVLDA is keen to pursue is the transformation from an alliance to an authority, similar to the organizational set up of the Laguna Lake Development Authority. This is a quasi-government body that is tasked to lead, promote and accelerate sustainable development in the Laguna de Bay region. The authority regulates activities in the area, and has law enforcement powers as well. Because it is a government body, it has a budget allocation from the national government, which is part of what AVLDA sees as being a factor for long-term sustainability. With less pressure to seek out external funding, the Alliance can focus on activities.

Key Learnings

  • The effort to integrate community concerns into local government planning is critical for an alliance. The initiative to pilot certain community sites for community resource assessment and mapping is an important source of local information that is necessary for the formulation of responsive and realistic plans. Rather than prepare desk-bound, paper plans based on standards, the effort of AVLDA has been to work closely with communities to gain a better understanding of needs. Hence, the alliance is actually developing a needs-based planning.
  • Alliances are in key positions to communicate about actual situations on the ground. In the case of AVLDA, the technical working group is in a critical position to make recommendations to those who are in authority for the appropriate action. The municipal alliances visited earlier in the assessment process were able to generate a greater voice, by working together and raising their concerns to the provincial government. Rather than working as single local government units, an alliance has the benefit of a unified stance. Broader alliances, like AVLDA, should exert their influence in the same way, by voicing their concerns to their provincial government, and if necessary to regional and national government as well.
  • Local government alliances should also explore the different technologies that are available to it. In AVLDA’s case, there has been a significant investment in GIS and remote sensing, which are important tools and can help better communicate about what is going on in area. While the financial investment in the technology is required, significant investment into capacity building for staff to be able to work with the technology is also critical.
  • It is important for an alliance to determine the scale that it wants to operate on, and the nature or kind of organization it feels will be able to do the work effectively. In the case of AVLDA, there is the serious pursuit of transformation into an authority. As discussed above, this might help to ease some of the financial concerns of the group, however, there should also be an assessment of the other implications of such a decision. To be an authority would mean that the alliance would be operating as a unit under the national government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This would also likely entail a change in organizational structure. While for sustainability purposes, transforming into an authority would have definite benefits, the character of the alliance would change, and it would become part of the national government bureaucracy, rather than a local organization working to raise local needs and concerns.


5 to 9 December 2006

Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC)

With support from Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)-Philippines and its program
Sharing and Promotion of Awareness and Regional Knowledge (SPARK)
in community-based natural resource management

ESSC-PWG Report: Collaboration initiatives towards
comprehensive landscape management and greater human security

Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance, 5 to 9 December 2006, South Cotabato & Sultan Kudarat



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MAPS
AVLDA Map of the River Dikes

AVLDA Administrative Map

AVLDA Administrative and Drainage Map

Allah Valley River System