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Permaculture Reforestation With and For the Indigenous Tribes of Mindanao, Philippines

by Christian Shearer

Project Background

The Malungon area of the Sarangani province, located in the southern region of The Philippines, was once one of the richest forests in the world. Today the remaining old growth exists in small, fragmented stands which remain vulnerable to illegal deforestation and degradation. Frequently ignored, these last remaining areas are a vital core habitat for a wide range of fauna and flora. This forest has also been, for at least 2000 years, the centerpiece of the culture and lifestyle of the Blaan and Tagakaulo indigenous peoples.

Miraculously, throughout Philippine history these tribes have been able to hold on to basically independent status of their lands (though more than a few lives were lost fighting the Spanish). It was not until the Marcos era that their ancestral lands were stripped. Logging concessions were given out at an astonishing rate, and between the years of 1960 and 1990, over 85% of the 250,000 hectare Sarangani forest came under the saw. Large corporate interests from around the world were often given the rights to large swaths of land at a cost of $1 per tree. They would ship this internationally and sell the old growth mahogany for thousands of times that price. Today only 12% of that forest remains.

During the 1990s, under the Ramos administration, the fortunes of the indigenous people took a turn for the better. President Ramos immediately made further logging illegal and even canceled those concessions that had already been given. With passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act 1997 the Blaan and Tagakaulo tribes for the first time retained official title to their land. Together they were given 74,000 hectares (165,760 acres) on the Torrens Title System. And other tribal peoples retained titles to the vast majority of the entire Sarangani forest area.

This was an unprecedented milestone for these peoples, but left them with a largely denuded and eroded landscape. Since that time, they have worked to replant forest, and establish agricultural systems for themselves that do not harm their land even more, but often they are forced through the hardships of the land to farm on very steep slopes and to resort to production of charcoal as a means of generating an income. Both of these practices have led to further degradation.

Encouraging News

Though the rate of deforestation around the world has been slowing, it is expected to continue its rise as more forested land gets converted into agriculture to feed the planet. It is imperative that we act now to restore and revitalize degraded forest land so that the vital functions of this planet are maintained. There are inspiring examples from around the world of people working to restore forests, while at the same time benefiting the economic and social well-being of the local people.

Sabangan Falls, Philippines

Project Mission

  1. To initially plant 5 million trees in the Sarangani province, completely reforesting an area of 3000 hectares and restoring a biodiverse web of life. Ultimately this project can cover over 100,000 hectares of the Sarangani forest. When completed this process will:
    • provide habitat for countless species of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and plants.
    • stabilize the soil / reduce erosion.
    • stabilize water levels in rivers.
    • increase resiliency of watershed services under the threat of climate change impacts like extended droughts, and severe floods.
    • provide an ongoing source of agroforestry materials to the locals for their local use and income generation.
    • sequester carbon from the atmosphere, helping to counteract the effects of global climate change.
  2. To work with the local tribes and the cooperating organizations to increase the health, education, income and overall well-being of the local communities in the following ways (amongst others):
    • increase the economic well being of the local people, while substituting current harmful sources of income with others that benefit the overall well being of people and environment.
    • bringing locally generated electricity to the region (solar or micro-hydro where applicable).
    • sourcing funding for the improvement of the schools.
    • providing seeds and markets for their agricultural endeavors.
    • working with the government to improve roads.


A forest plays an important role in ecological stability by serving as a natural water reservoir as well as a habitat of our wildlife and the indigenous tribes there within. Since our forests are mostly degraded, rehabilitating them is a lifetime activity.

Regenerating a natural forest (Philippine Mahogany, Apitong, Lauan, Molave Narrra, Dao, and other indigenous species etc.) is usually done through seeds and wildlings, along with the knowledge of the local people. The development program follows something called the framework species concept, wherein the forest is planted with a select number of starting species which encourage the return of birds, animals, insects and provide the ecosystems services which set the stage for the natural regeneration of a truly diverse and healthy forest. A forest planted in this way can start with 30 varieties and see over 150 varieties of trees growing in less than 10 years. Our focus is not on the success of the trees themselves, but on the forest in general.

We will also be working with the local people to establish areas of agroforestry, mixed orchards, perennial food systems and annual gardens. To meet all of our objectives and have long term success, these are of critical importance.

Favorable Conditions for Reforestation Work

No Fire – One of the largest challenges facing reforestation work is that of fire. This area of the Philippines has no known forest fires on record, and we have documentation from the local government confirming this.

Climate – Mindanao is located 6 degrees north of the equator in a humid tropical zone. There are two main monsoon times of year, but the area in question receives afternoon rains very regularly throughout the year. This creates perfect conditions for seedling success.

The People – The Blaan and Tagakualo tribes are very much in support of the project. They feel proud of the opportunity to replant the forest for their future generations. Having this cooperation is key to the success of the replanting.

Supportive Government – Under the leadership of Senator (and Boxing Champion) Manny Pacquiao, Mindanao has seen a surge in pro-environmental movements throughout the island. We have also met with and received support from the provincial government, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the local mayor and the Tribal Council.

Organizations cooperating with WeForest for this project:

  • Bentley House International Corporation, registered in the Philippines in 1996, is committed to advocate and work for Integrated Rural Development through Social Enterprise with marginalized sectors, particularly IPs, small migrant farmers in both rural and urban areas. It prioritizes food security, alternative fuel development ecological balance, utilizes appropriate eco-friendly technologies for agri-aqua development, sustainable communities and enlightened people.
  • Indigenous Peoples Center for Development Services, Inc (IPCDS)
  • Department of Environment and Natural Resources of Mindanao (DENR)
  • National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. (NCIP)
  • Terra Genesis International (TGI) is a permaculture consulting and education team focused on large acreage projects, working with water management (for ecological benefit), perennial food systems, and replanting indigenous forest (as well as other food and community systems). The team will be providing education and design services for the project, ensuring that the local community truly feels like part of the design process. We will give them a "WeForesters" certificate, and hopefully help them to feel pride and ownership over the reforesting work that they will do. This will also help the forest be protected in the long run.


  1. Is the projest looking for outside help in the form of,say,ethical tourism. I have planted close to 500000 trees in monoculture and would like to offset this by working with a permaculture project. There is plenty of Canadians out there too, travelling off funds made from forestry.
    Is there an opportunity to invest time as a volunteer permie on this project?

  2. Congratulations!!! Amazing project of Regeneration one more piece (big one) of our planet! Thanks for the inspiration.
    Dear Christian,
    wish u healthy and happy!
    i´m at the moment working in Mindoro island in the Philippines for the next 3 months in a permaculture 9ha site.
    Any information that you recomend, sites to visit, people to meet, information about local species and so on…
    If you have some of this information would be great help.


  3. I grew up in the foothills of Mt. Matutum, where Blaan & Tagakaulo Tribes have lived, I went to school with their childrens (learned thier language as well). Their method of farming is Kaingin, or Cut and Burn, plant, and leave the farm after harvest for the forest to regenerate. Those who stayed and maintained ownership of an area had lost them from rich landlords, being payed for a cheap canned goods and other items. Since there is no opportunity in the mountains, some left for the city to find work. There is not much support from the government to preserve the rich culture of these truly amazing group of people.

  4. Excellent…I have been wanting to make permaculture as the strategy to arrest forest denudation…thanks for sharing

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