All posts by Shellemai Roa

Human-Beings and Ecosystem Interaction: The Complex Adaptive System

Without ecosystem services provided by the environment, human-beings cannot survive nor exist. Human-environment interaction is common to us. It is the usual scene every time we, humans, wake up in the morning and continue the routine of living.

For a moment, can you describe the details if you will be asked, what are the interactions between an individual and his environment? By posing for a while and observing what is really happening, I have found that the relations between human-beings and environment are complex.

In this article, we will see the reality of complex relations between ecosystem and human-beings within one of the remote communities in the island of Palawan that we have visited.

Human-environment interaction are complex adaptive systems. It is complex because ecosystem and social system have many parts that are interconnected and interdependent with each other. Adaptive since it has feedback structures that promote survival in a continuously changing environment.

Humans are highly dependent on the environment. Ecosystem services such as food, water, clothing, shelter, timber and many other resources are essential for human-beings survival. By using these resources, people affect the environment in a lot of ways. Humans modify the existing ecosystem for their purposes and benefits as well as develop new strategies that seem to be more effective in serving their needs.

The type of society strongly affects the attitude and behavior of people towards nature, and therefore brings impacts on ecosystem. Some of the significant characteristics include population size, social organization, knowledge, culture, belief and many more. Values, knowledge and cultures strongly influence peoples’ “view and principles of life” and subsequently define the way people act. The choice of possible actions is then limited by the available resources and technologies.

The Pala’wans – Environment Interaction

The Pala’wan tribe who have settled in the southern part of Palawan island have simple way of living. They are highly dependent on the availability of natural resources within their areas. The practice of traditional agriculture like slash-and-burn farming is one of their ways to produce staple food such as rice, cassava and other endemic crops. They also know unique strategies in fishing and hunting of several wild animals. For thousands of years, their lives are linked with the environment. Their rich traditional knowledge reflects and embodies a cultural and spiritual relationship with the land, river and wildlife.

The selected photo below shows how Pala’wans are connected with the environment. It was taken in May 2013 when my dad and I, together with my group mates in research study in college, visited Sitio Bayabas, Barangay Bunog, Rizal, Palawan. The site is located within Mt. Mantalingahan, one of the protected areas in the province of Palawan.

The site is considered as one of the sacred places of the Pala’wans. Thus, only limited people are allowed to visit the area. And we are fortunate to have that opportunity! Once more, I’m so blessed to witness these great creations of the Lord.

falls
©2013 Shellemai Roa

The Aesthetic Value of the Site

The aesthetic view of the place is like a paradise. You are free to hear the natural sound of murmuring water from a waterfall that continuously flows and rushes within the blocks of big rocks; it has crystal clear running waters with bluish and greenish color in some parts that seems like a confined pool with fresh and cold water; the fresh gentle breeze that touches your skin with whispering sounds around your ear; the sound of chirping birds and other insects around; as well as the views of mountains, really gives relaxation, peace of mind, thanksgiving and enjoyment to human-being like me. These natural services provided by the ecosystem cannot be compared to any man-made structure.

The Interrelationship of Each System

By looking deeper into the relationship of every factor present in the area, other interactions were recorded. These include the different biogeochemical cycles that sustain the homeostasis of the environment. For instance, sun is the critical source of energy for every living organism, both biotic and abiotic factors. Without it, no one can exist, including human-beings.

The communities benefit from the oxygen produced by vegetation in the area (including us who visited them as well as in a global aspect for it cannot be confined in an area). On the other hand, plants use the carbon dioxide released by humans and animals as well as other organisms that release the same, for the process of photosynthesis to take place.

Direct Benefits Obtained in the site by the Community

Aside from the indirect value of the resources in the area, the water source supplies the needs of the Pala’wans for cooking, cleaning, bathing or swimming and other purposes. Moreover, hunting of wild animals, fishes, shrimps and other crustaceans is one of the major sources of food of the Pala’wan. The provision of these resources support the lives of the tribe. They use arrows in hunting fishes or shrimps. What is so good about them in gathering of resources is they observe proper utilization.

During the trek, Rowel, a Pala’wan, tried to hunt some shrimps for lunch. However, during those times, shrimps are not fully grown yet; thus, he did not collect any.

The Pala’wan also believe that they will suffer in the near future if the available resources are exploited. Furthermore, they believe that every place is guarded by gods and goddesses who take care of the area and they will be punished once they over-use the resources.

fishing using spear
©2013 Shellemai Roa

Intangible institutions like these lead to environmental conservation. Beliefs, cultures and traditional knowledge drive their attitudes and values toward their interaction with natural ecosystem.

Human-environment interaction is observed in every action that we do. Human activities increase or mitigate pressure on the environment. The driving forces which initiate human activities are mainly socio-economic and socio-cultural forces.

Thus, it is very important that we examine the consequences of our actions before we start to act. Consider the impacts that it will bring to ecosystem for we have a very complex system – a system that is interrelated to one another in which an action in one factor is connected to the rest of ecosystem.

©2015 April 18 Shellemai A. Roa

Eating Insects as Food: A Practical Solution to World Hunger

Have you ever thought of eating little, crunchy, yummy insects such as grasshoppers and cockroaches? What will be your response when someone asks you to have  ‘cricketty-cricketty crickets’ or ‘buzzerry-buzzery buggies’ dinner? Hmm… Quite weird huh! But, if it becomes a solution for the world hunger after 50 years, what will your response be? Oh well, let us see what’s so good about insects and why it is considered as that.

Consumption of edible insects has been part of human history for many cultures. These insects played an important role as part of human nutrition in many regions worldwide like Africa, Latin America and Asia. Rural areas in these regions suffer from malnutrition, especially protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) (Siriamornpun and Thammapat, 2008).

Communities of Thailand for instance, have a long cultural history of eating insects. They have become well-known for their exotic food like cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects; it is one of the countries which have the most registered species that make their way into man’s digestive system.

insects as food
Insects served as part of regular food in a restaurant (Photo by Richard Allaway@Flicker.com)

Over decades, edible insects are used for other products like canned goods or snacks on a commercial-scale. Its use as a sustainable and secure source for human diet has continued to increase (FAO, 2010; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Survival Strategy of Edible Insects

The unpredictable changes in the environment causes many organisms to develop adaptation strategies to survive. One of the strategies is to increase in number of offspring that need little energy investment. The underlying reason is that even if there are unpredictable forces of nature, still there will be some left to live, to reproduce, age and pass on future generation just by mere numbers. Many invertebrates follow this strategy – lots of eggs are produced and larvae are formed but only a few survive to maturity (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Insects place an emphasis on high growth rate which typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches and produce many offspring quickly. The exponential growth curve by Malthus applies in this selection where the population at the beginning is not very high but grows independently at a very fast rate. Nonetheless, these organisms have relatively low chance of surviving to adult stage. Creatures belong under this strategy are called r-strategists (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Most of the organisms classified as r-strategists are pests. They damage crops or bother human beings. However, the traditional use of insects as food continues to expand around the world and it gives significant socio-economic and environmental values for the communities (FAO, 2010).

Potential Source of Alternative Food – Solution to World Hunger

It was projected that by 2050, the world will be having 9 billion people. To support the food needs of this number, the present food production will need to almost double. Arable land, however, has become scarce due to rapid development. Oceans are over fished and climate change and other related shortages can have direct or indirect implications to food production. To meet these problems, production and consumption should be re-evaluated. New strategies of producing food are needed (FAO, 2013).

worm as food
Barbecue flavored worm crisps (Photo by Flavio Ensiki@Flicker.com)

There has been a growing realization that insects can meet the scarcity in food especially in the many protein challenged regions. The works of Raksakantong et al. (2010) as stated by Siriamornpun and Thammapat (2008) concluded that one of the cheapest sources of animal protein are insects.

Consumption of insects is continuously encouraged by many people due to financial issues. Many of the poorest populations in the world such as Africa and Asia eat insects as part of their diet (Shockley and Dossey, 2014). It has the potential of supporting many rural dwellers including also those street traders in urban areas, where some of these insects are popular among those who want to try alternative food (FAO, 2013; West Africa Trends Team, 2014).

The efficiency and biodiversity benefits provided by insects are potential for food supplies and sustainability of a region. Insects contain higher nutritional quality than animal protein as well as produced more sustainable and with much smaller ecological footprint than most livestock such as pigs and cows (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Furthermore, since insects are r-strategists, they tend to produce quickly compared to livestock, thus, have greater efficiency and biodiversity for they can contribute to human food ingredients even within a short period. There are more than 1 million species of edible insects described and still more than 4-30 million species are estimated to exist on earth, living in every niche inhabited by humans and beyond. For instance, house crickets can lay 1,200 – 1,500 eggs in just a matter of 3-4 weeks (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Gathering and farming of insects can also offer employment and more source of income. In developing countries like in Asia, demand for edible insects becomes common. It is relatively easy to bring insects to market. Gathering, rearing and processing into street foods, just like the sale of chicken or fish, are within the reach of small-scale enterprises (FAO, 2013).

Finally, the combined force of traditional knowledge and new technologies in gathering, rearing, processing or producing edible insects is a potential solution for world hunger problems.

Yummy, crunchy cockroach meal, anyone?

References:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2010). Edible forest insect: humans bite back! Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2013). Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Shockley M. and A. T. Dossey (2014). Insects for Human Consumption. In Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms Invertebrates and Entomopathogens. J. A. Morales-Ramos, M. G. Rojas and D. I. Shapiro-Ilan (Eds.). Chapter 18. Pp/ 617-652.

Siriamornpun, S. and P. Thammapat (2008). Insects as a Delicacy and a Nutritious Food in Thailand.  Thailand: International Union of Food Science and Technology. p. 1-9.

West Africa Trends Team (2014). Bushmeat and the future of protein in West Africa. West Africa Trends Newsletter, Issue 9. African Center for Economic Transformation. p. 8-13.

©2014 November 27 Shellemai A. Roa

Malthusians vs. Cornucopians: A Viewpoint on Population Growth

The prospects of human population growth may be viewed using two perspectives: the Malthusian and the Cornucopian. The latter views the growth positively; they believe that the larger the population, the better. On the other hand, if it is viewed negatively, this now take on the Malthusian viewpoint where the growth is associated with problems.

The Malthusian Point of View

This principle was named after Thomas Malthus. He believes that once a population increases, more resources are needed to support the growing demand of people. The food becomes insufficient since production could not keep up with the needs of an increased number of people.

Uncontrolled population is a major reason that causes environmental degradation. The theory looked unto resource depletion; degradation of soil, mineral and fuel; famine, crimes, and wars as a result of increased competition in availing of scarce natural resources.

However, the predicted scenarios through time under this theory have some contradictions with the existing population data. Thus, a new thought arose that explains the economic development despite of population growth. Thus, the Cornucopian’s principle started to develop.

Contrary to Malthus’ expectations, the scholars believe that population increase is neither a problem nor harmful to human life. Indeed, it leads to a more developed economy for there is greater number of people who can think and make new inventions.

The Cornucopian’s Principle

The continuous development of technologies from different areas worldwide and the application thereof is the main foundation of this principle. The Cornucopians believe that advances in technologies can give and sustain the needs of the society. The rapid increase in population is positively viewed: more population produces more ideas. Through these, a lot of high technologies and new inventions of systems and devices are carried in to address the problems with increasing human demands as well as improve life. In addition, this view believes that there are enough sources of matter and energy on the earth to cater the rising number of population around the world. So, an increase in food consumption is not an issue.

People become experts and specialized in their fields of interest thus are able to respond efficiently and effectively in the arising problems of society. For instance, advanced technologies in food production helps a lot since more food are produced using new systems.

The Current Reality: Growing Population Affects the Environment Negatively

Many inventions, technologies and new systems are continuously booming. Yes, these help the human beings to cope with the arising human problems. So, the Cornucopians’ thinking has a point.

On the other hand, the Malthusian perspective appears more reliable for we observe that increasing global population lead to increased use of natural resources to meet the growing economic demand. This results to environmental degradation as predicted by Malthus.

We have limited resources. Scarcity on food resources becomes common in many developing countries like Africa and Asia. The report of Food and Agriculture Organization, referred to as the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI) from 2008-2012, shows that the global hunger situation has improved since 1990. However, despite the progress made, the level of hunger in the world remains serious in which 870 million people still experience hunger (IFPRI, 2013).

Manila at nightime
Manila at night (©2014 P. Regoniel)

The pollution emitted from  production and consumption of natural resources regardless of technological advantages has negative impacts on the ecological aspects of environment especially on the health of human beings. In addition, due to anthropogenic activities, the climatic condition on a global scale is also affected.

Mobility of people affects the ecological condition of the environment. Encroachments of many lands in rural areas for expansion as identified for commercial establishments and different businesses happen. Settlers, then, in these occupied areas move to higher zones or transfer to other places. Environmental degradation, especially in the forested areas, then happens due to the disturbances brought by new settlers (Grimm et al., 2008; Fragkias et al., 2012).

How’s My City?

Population growth is also observed in the City of Puerto Princesa. The total inhabitants of the City in late 1870s was only 573 while the recorded population in year 2010 based on the latest census of the National Statistics Coordinating Board (2010) was 222,673; an increase of 38,760.91% was observed.

During early 1970s to 1990s, the City has 24 urban and 42 rural barangays. However, the classified urban villages around year 1998 until now increased to 35 barangays, while the classified rural regions decreased to 31 barangays.

Since not all families can afford to have their houses in designated areas of the government, some opted to settle in nearby coastal areas that resulted to squatting. Based from the conducted surveys of informal settlers by the city government during 1993 to 2005, there was a total of 5,326 households in 21 coastal areas of the City and 4,999 from various areas.

In order to solve the problem in housing and squatting, the local government launched a City Housing Program in 1993. One of the identified resettlement sites was Barangay Sicsican (CPDO, 2007).

The traffic situation is worsening in urban areas of the City along Rizal Avenue, Malvar Street and within the National Highway of Barangay San Miguel and San Pedro (CPDO, 2007). In year 1985, the Bureau of Land Transportation, Puerto Princesa Branch (1992) registered a total of 2,989 vehicles generally composed of motorcycles and tricycles. There was an increase of about 1,241.39% or 37,105 in year 2012 (40,094 registered vehicles) from year 1992.

Those are just some of the evidences that the Malthusian Theory may be the right after all.

References:

City Planning and Development Office (2007). Socio-economic and physical profile. Puerto Princesa City. Philippines.

Fragkias, M., et al. (2012) Typologies of urbanization projections, effects on land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Chapter 7, p. 30-41.

Grimm, N. B., et al. (2008) The changing landscape: ecosystem responses to urbanization and pollution across climatic and societal gradients. 6(5) p. 264–272. Available: www.frontiersinecology.org

International Food Policy Research Institute (2013). Global Hunger Index. The challenge of hunger: building resilience to achieve food and nutrition security. Available: http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/ghi13.pdf. Retrieved on 8 September 2014.

Land Transportation Office-Puerto Princesa City Branch (LTO-PPC)(2012). Number of registered vehicles (2001-2012). Puerto Princesa City. Philippines.

Intangible Things as Institutions Towards Attaining Environmental Sustainability

How can people’s beliefs help keep the environment from destruction? Is there a relationship between intangible things and environmental sustainability? This article shows how indigenous people’s thoughts, beliefs or cultures contribute to environmental sustainability.

The environment is defined as the totality of tangible and intangible things that surround us. Those things that can normally perceive by our five senses are considered as tangible things while things like norms, values, beliefs, culture and traditions are some of the intangible things that greatly influence one’s behavior.

The Pala’wan, an indigenous group of people once living in the hinterlands of Palawan Island in the Philippines, are usually known for these things. They have lots of beliefs and practices that they kept for thousands of years as part of their culture. These beliefs and practices are linked with the environment. Thus, they managed the natural resources effectively.  Their ways are  compatible with the environment as they adopt simple living (Docto, 2008).

The Pala’wan‘s cultural identities, social and spiritual relationships are deeply originated in their area and they believe that the environment is governed by gods and goddesses. In this way, they contribute to the conservation and protection of the environment for they respect their sacred resources (Tauli-Corpuz et al., 2010).

Fear of Owls and Night Herons

The Pala’wans are afraid of birds such as owls and night herons, locally known as “gukgok” and “tikwara,” respectively.

What really are the beliefs of the Pala’wans about these species? What causes them to cringe with terror as they hear the sound of these birds?

Let us take a deeper look on these unfounded fear among the indigenous peoples (IPs).

Do not Touch, Catch nor Even Mimic the Calls! You Better Hide Instead!

Through an interview with my dad, I’ve found that the Pala’wans who generally live in the remote areas of southern Palawan, particularly in Quezon and Rizal, harbor the fear of the Rufous Night-heron and the Palawan Scops-owl.

They should not touch, catch or even mimic the calls of these birds, particularly the owl, for they will suffer once they do. They should hide whenever they hear these creatures.

Although my dad is a Pala’wan, and of course I’m a Pala’wan too, we do not subscribe to this belief. However, the IPs in Quezon and Rizal still adhere to this belief; and I know that these beliefs helped conserve the natural resources of the place.

What is the Belief about the Rufous Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus)?
Night Heron
Night heron. Picture modified from Frank Schulenberg@Flickr.com (cc)

The rufous night-heron, locally known as “tikwara,” is believed to be owned or is a pet of an unseen person. Anyone who dares touch, catch or even imitate the sound that this bird makes will get sick, and even die as a result.

A curse befalls a person if he violates this rule. To be relieved of this curse, he needs to consult an albularyo (a local medicine man) to humbly ask for forgiveness. He goes through a series of rituals; and this is the only remedy to stop the evil consequences.