Rosy-cheeked Betty Panapit once had to trek four kilometers just to fetch water up and down the jungled slopes of Sitio Pulang Lupa in Barangay Batong Labang, a rugged, mountainside community near the city of Ilagan, Isabela.
Today, she walks zero kilometers – for fresh water flows directly down to the 35 families in her immediate area. “Malaking tulong po talaga ito para sa amin, lalo na sa panahon ng El Niño at tagtuyot (this is a big help for us, especially because we are being hit by the El Niño),” she says. Betty and her community have discovered how living in harmony with nature can transform lives.
WWF, in partnership with Sun Life Foundation and the U.S. Embassy Manila’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Abuan Integrated Watershed Management Project, recently constructed five concrete spring box water systems to distribute potable water to upland farming communities.
USAID financed the preparation of a water resources inventory, demographic survey, environmental impact review, plus construction supervision and management. Sun Life Foundation financed the provision of cement and steel bars, while community residents donated gravel, sand, plus their time and labor to build the spring boxes.
Spring box systems are enclosed water containers built atop fissures, cracks or pores where water naturally seeps out. Over time, the boxes collect water while keeping out debris like rotting twigs and leaves. Water is then filtered and channeled down to communities for household activities like cooking, bathing, drinking or growing vegetables.
During El Niño and other extreme weather events, spring boxes can help ensure that enough potable water is available for families which need it most.
Over 70,000 Fruit Trees Planted for Agroforestry
To augment the spring boxes, Sun Life Foundation also planted 15,169 mango, citrus and cacao seedlings. This agroforestry drive has enriched 69.45 hectares of once-barren grassland since 2012. “I now have 180 new mango and 200 satsuma citrus trees, which can help feed my family for years to come,” says project beneficiary Arsenio Cacliong.
Agroforestry allows crops and trees to coexist, maximizing benefits. This increases land productivity, improves water recharge and minimizes erosion.
This is a unique approach to reforestation – allowing the balanced intercropping of trees, shrubs and crops to create more productive, profitable and sustainable plots. Since 2009, WWF and its allies have helped 466 Isabela farmers plant 70,786 fruit-bearing trees, which were chosen to provide farmers economic incentives to nurture saplings to maturity.
The move aims to reforest Isabela’s Abuan watershed – a once-verdant forest which has since been converted to endless sprawls of corn and rice. Shielding the eastern face of Luzon for 340 kilometers and spanning 359,486 hectares, the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park is both the Philippines’ longest mountain range and its largest protected area.
Over 150 endemic animal species – from the iconic Philippine eagle to the critically-endangered Philippine crocodile – slither, scuttle or soar above its vigorously-vegetated ridges. In turn, its forests provide water for 35,570 hectares of ricefields and corn-plots in the city of Ilagan in Isabela.
“Sun Life Foundation champions sustainable solutions in all the advocacies we support. This project is one such initiative,” says Sun Life Foundation Chairman of the Board Riza Mantaring. “We are proud to be WWF-Philippines’ partner and we will continue to support projects that will offer a brighter life to Filipinos for generations to come.”
For part, USAID is working with local stakeholders to improve the adaptability of watersheds, farmlands, and other economic sectors in the Abuan Watershed to climate change threats. The Abuan Integrated Watershed Management Project pilots the Department of Science and Technology’s smarter agriculture program by enhancing the capacity of farmers to adapt to climate change. To date, this USAID-supported grant increased the capacity of nearly 7000 stakeholders to adapt to impacts of climate variability and change.
By planting trees and protecting the watersheds of Ilagan, WWF, Sun Life Foundation and USAID are bolstering the capacity of Isabela’s farmers to deal with worsening climate change effects like El Niño. This is how WWF builds communities which live in harmony with nature.
For further information:
Mr. Ed Tongson
Project Director, WWF-Philippines
Mr. Luis Caraan
Isabela Project Manager, WWF-Philippines
Mr. Gregg Yan
Communications & Media Manager, WWF-Philippines