Tag Archives: case study

How is Human Psychology Related to Environmental Sustainability?

Is there a relationship between human thought processes and environmental sustainability? This article illustrates how people’s beliefs can help preserve the environment.

Taking off from the definition of psychology, there is a connection between psychology and environmental sustainability. The Free Dictionary defines psychology as the study of the thought processes and behavior of humans in their interaction with the environment. The way humans think or regard the environment, influences his behavior towards it and vice-versa.

How can human thought processes lead to environmental sustainability? Let me explain the connection by narrating a short story. This is about a supernatural occurrence that shaped a community’s behavior towards an island. This prevailing belief among the fisher folks helped preserve a coral reef for many years.

The Enchanted Island of Marangas

Several years ago, a fisherman docked on the rugged terrain of Marangas Island to take a brief rest from a busy morning doing his usual fishing routine. After pitching the small anchor into the shallow waters, he waded towards the shore while pulling his small boat along with him. He tied one end of the rope at the bow to a sturdy rock offshore to keep the boat from swaying wildly in the wavy, afternoon waters.

He looked for a place to rest in the narrow island. Despite the island’s rocky nature, he found a sandy spot under a tree. He took his late lunch and prepared to take a nap.

The fisherman was on the verge of sleep when, out of the corner of his eye, he figured something moving among the rocks. Something long and alive wriggles towards his direction. This was followed by another one, then another. Then he realized, it was a den of snakes! And the snakes are making their way towards him. All his life, he never saw such a multitude of snakes. island

The poor fisherman frantically snatched his belongings and ran towards the boat. He rowed with all his might without looking back. He was so frightened that he forgot to lift up his anchor until it dragged and get snagged in a massive growth of coral reef. After cutting the rope quickly, he rowed so hard that his boat seemed like a speedboat racing towards the mainland.

The story spread like wildfire in the small fishing village taking twists and turns that made the story even more dramatic. A farmer further fanned the flames of intrigue and awe when he recounted that once, he left a herd of goats in the island and lost them all without a trace.

The people thought the island is occupied by evil spirits. From that time on, the fishers avoid the island and regard it with fear in the belief that the island is enchanted.

A Healthy Coral Reef Environment

What has this enchanted island story have to do with environmental sustainability? Here’s the explanation.

Since fishers dare not approach the island to do their usual fishing activities, the coral reef surrounding that island remained untouched for many years. As result, a healthy coral reef environment thrived. The area was preserved from the rampant illegal fishing activities that plagued many islands dotting the bay.

I witnessed such amazing underwater environment when I prodded a reluctant fisher guide to bring my team of SCUBA divers to the island so we can have a glimpse of the corals underneath. At right is a picture of one section of the reef showing a large tabulate coral with sergeant majors swimming above fragile branching corals. The whole reef was virtually intact despite its closeness to the mainland. coralreef

The Environmental Perspective

The environment is defined as the tangible and intangible things around us. Tangible things are those that we normally perceive with our five senses. Intangible things include people’s norms, values, and beliefs that exist and influence people’s behavior.

Based on this definition, the belief that supernatural beings exist in the enchanted island dictated how the fisher folks regard the island. They avoided the island thinking that they might displease the evil spirits. This kept the island’s surrounding coral reef intact. Hence, environmental sustainability is assured as the healthy coral reefs provide a viable, productive habitat for marine life dependent on it for sustenance.

This story is similar to the Balete tree story. Respecting people’s beliefs by keeping it that way despite its ridiculous, irrational or illogical nature can have some positive benefits. Superstitious beliefs help preserve the environment.

© 2013 August 30 P. A. Regoniel

Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project

Effective collaboration between communities, the government and non-government organizations can help restore the environment. Here is the story of a successful family-based afforestation project.

There are many stories of successful community-based reforestation projects but few describe successful afforestation projects. Intrigued by a colleague’s story of an afforestation program that thrived for many years in Aborlan, a municipality located 69 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa, I embarked on a trip together with colleagues to see how the community did it.

But before you read the story of a successful afforestation project I narrate below, I see it necessary to define the terms reforestation and afforestation. What is the difference between these two terms? Unless you understand the difference, you cannot fully appreciate the significance and uniqueness of this story.

What is the difference between reforestation and afforestation?

For those unfamiliar with terms that relate to environmental or natural resource matters, the term reforestation is more easily understood as opposed to afforestation. These two terms are operationally defined, that is, defined in relation to this story on afforestation.

Reforestation is planting trees once again to deforested sites or former forests that have been logged over, overharvested of lumber or burned due to a forest fire. Afforestation is converting once unproductive or bare lands into forested areas able to support biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration and capture, provide for the natural resource needs of man, among others.

The Case of Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation

Here is a condensed version of the successful afforestation project published in a local journal[1].

The coastal community  of Tagpait, Aborlan undertook a mangrove afforestation project and sustained it for many years. Their accomplishment is quite unique because they used a family-based approach in achieving the objectives of the project.

The community-based mangrove afforestation project commenced through Japan-based Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International (OISCA) International. With the help of dedicated Filipino community organizers who trained in Japan through OISCA, the community members led by their chairman, started planting mangroves in a section of the coast virtually without mangroves. The place was used mainly by the local folks for gleaning and fishing activities.

OISCA provided the funds for logistics such as hauling of seedlings and boat hires. On the other hand, the community members contributed to the project by voluntarily gathering the mangrove propagules necessary for their 25 x 400 meter (1 hectare) lots. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded Contracts of stewardship agreement to families in 1991.

The stewardship agreement provided that the grantee may receive technical assistance and extension services in the management of the stewardship area. These services, to be provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and other government or private entities, include the procurement of planting materials, harvesting and marketing.

Seventy-eight families started to reforest the muddy portion of the coast on a one hectare per family basis. They nurtured the mangroves to maturity. Simultaneously, they established a sanctuary for fish and other marine species. The community members managed the mangrove plantation, making sure that the area is free of disturbance.

The Outcome and Benefits of the Mangrove Afforestation Initiative

After twenty years of family-based mangrove management, the families reaped the benefits of their labor. Lush growth of mangroves, bisected by an allocated section of open space for fishers to gain access to the sea, characterizes the area. Species of Sonneratia spp., Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, Lumnitzera racemosa, Xylocarpus granatum, among others species of mangroves grew at sizes of 5 to 10 cm in diameter (Figure 1).

afforestation
Fig. 1. Lush growth of mangroves bisected by a pathway for fishers in Tagpait, Aborlan.

Now, community members harvest timber from sturdy mangrove species of Xylocarpus sp. and poles of Rhizophora spp. Every time they harvest wood or timber, they immediately replace this by planting a corresponding number of mangrove propagules.

Aside from being able to satisfy the community members’ lumber needs, they have now a sustainable source of nutritious food from wildlife supported by the mangrove forest. Occasionally, people come around and trap or gather crabs, shrimps, fish, edible shells, tamilok (a shipworm of the genus Teredo which is considered a delicacy by the local folks), among others.

Beside the open area for boats and along the mangroves, the families constructed a pathway made of bamboo, sturdy mangroves and planks of wood. It is here where hook-and-line fishers and gleaners pass through. This also serves as a pathway for visitors, who come to visit the man-made forest and enjoy the food served by the community members. They charged corresponding fees for the use of cottages and services.

Future Outlook

The use of mangroves by the Tagpait fisherfolk adheres to the principle of the sustainable utilization. However, encroaching individuals from other communities sneak and cut some trees for their own use, threatening forest integrity. There is a felt need among the fisherfolk to address this problem.

Despite this threat, the mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan demonstrates that long-term benefits can be derived from long-term initiatives to enhance the coastal ecosystem. Taking the family-based approach in creating an ecosystem that mimics a natural ecosystem is an effective tool in engaging communities towards the goal of natural resource conservation. The family has “property rights” over the resource thus prevent its abuse. The economic benefits that arise from a protected ecosystem further strengthen the need for people to use the natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Replication of the community’s experience in Tagpait, Aborlan in other places will undoubtedly revive portions of the coastal zone where marine biodiversity thrives. The mangrove trees provide shelter not only to dugongs, sea turtles, monitor lizards, molluscs, among others but also to local and migrating bird species. Mangroves are a powerful form of erosion control, buffer against storms or even tsunami, clean the air through carbon sequestration, filter sediment-laden runoff.

Source:

1. Regoniel, P. A., and E. B. Pacañot (2012). Family-based mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan, Palawan:
Sustaining the drive towards sustainable development. Palawan State University Journal. 5, 8-13.

Competing for Water in Nangalao Island

One of the critical environmental issues that hound small islands is water scarcity. However, not only is the water scarce in such locations but also difficult to access, owing not only to environmental factors but also the attitude of people living on those islands. The experience of a community of fishers living in Nangalao Island is a case in point. 

Impact Assessment

On April 30, 2013, I was one of a composite team of field workers who visited the island of Nangalao, about an hour boat ride from San Miguel poblacion in the municipality of Linapacan in Palawan Province. When the 20-passenger outrigger boat hit the shallows, we have to transfer to a smaller boat towed to the beach by a local fisher until we can step out right to the sand and avoid getting wet.

We have to duck through ropes and wires strung across rows of randomly built houses which occupy most of the beach front. The local government has no zoning scheme so the buildings and houses were in disarray. We have to snake our way through to get to the barangay hall.

My main concern in visiting the place was to assess the impact of a foundation’s various programs implemented in the community for the past six years. The main goal of those programs is to help uplift the living condition of the marginalized fisherfolks whose fishing activities have been affected by the operation of a natural gas project.

What caught my attention was a lady carrying a pail of water across the basketball court, in such a hurry and in an attempt to avoid bumping into teenagers playing on one side of the court.  Thereafter, I saw another group of people carrying plastic containers from the same place the lady appeared. Obviously, they were fetching water from a nearby source.

Network of Water Pipes

This observation puzzled me because I have seen a network of large, black PVC water pipes at the left side of the barangay hall. I asked one of the local government officials to verify if indeed those pipes were intended to distribute water. As expected, he affirmed but noted that those pipes were empty because water flow from source was so weak to fill those pipes for household use.

I thought I would visit the water source to confirm. I asked for a guide to accompany me to the site, which, I discovered, lies two kilometers away.

Water availability is a very important factor to consider when evaluating the productivity of communities. Without water, it will be difficult for people to grow crops and of course, drink clean water to quench their thirst, among other household requirements. How can life be sustained without water?

Thus, I decided to walk all the way to the water source located uphill. That will also be good exercise for me after a few days out of my regular running routine.

The Water Source

The residents obtained water from two sources: one located about a kilometer away from the main cluster of houses, and the other nestled almost on top of a barren hill. My guide, together with another field worker, climbed up the rugged and steep hill devoid of vegetation. A recent fire razed dry cogon grasses (Imperata cylindrica) including a section of the PVC pipes which once funneled water downhill.

What we saw was a surprising, and pitiful scene. Young boys wait patiently for their turn to fill small water containers, with just a stream of water akin to that of a urinating animal. What can you expect in a bald mountain with rocky substrate that cannot hold much water?

scarce water
Boys patiently wait for their water containers to fill at the main water source in Nangalao.

Quarrel on Water Use

We saw a round, cement cistern located a few meters from the fetching area. I climbed by the side wanting to know how much water was in store. I saw the same stream of water from another pipe embedded on the side of the hill barely kept up with water drawn from it.

During rainy days, local folks say the cistern is almost full. Then I said, they don’t need to walk all the way then to the main source.

At that point, the guide told me that this was the situation before. The water pipes had already supplied the water needs of the underlying houses several years back. But residents living next to pipes in the upper elevations diverted the flowing water into their farms. They punched holes in the exposed plastic tubes and got the water for free. As a result, very little water trickled down the line. There were altercations between affected parties. Ultimately, the barangay chairman decided to stop operating the local government’s water services.

Now, everyone took the brunt of the decision. Not only is the water scarce but a natural resource of contention. Access to it is difficult and time consuming (see Opportunity Cost).

If you are a consultant for community development, what would you recommend?

© 2013 July 13 P. A. Regoniel

Cultural Diffusionism: Makeshift Mini-Hydro by the Indigenous People of Sitio Bohoy

Technology can reach remote places and change the way of life of indigenous peoples. Here is an example of cultural diffusionism and acculturation in Sitio Bohoy, a remote place where once G-string clad Pala’wans reside.

I never expected to see a trace of technological innovation in a very isolated place like Sitio Bohoy in the far-south of Palawan Island in the Philippines two years back. More so aware of the fact that those who employ such technology belong to the indigenous people, the Pala’wans, who were once wearing G-strings the last time I recalled seeing them.

How the Mini-Hydro Came to Be

Boyet, a member of the Pala’wan tribe, came up with his own version of the mini-hydroelectric power station to provide electrical power to 15 houses in his community. Together with his friends, he built a dam in a nearby stream made of indigenous materials plus junks he could lay his hands on from the materials recovery facility of a nearby mining company.

The makeshift mini-hydro dam pooled water and produces power when water is released through 6-inch corrugated PVC pipes at the main source, then smaller pipes downstream to increase water pressure. This series of big and small pipes are joined together by rubber strips, probably from worn-out rubber tires of vehicles. A two-inch GI pipe at the end of the pipeline hits the home made turbine attached to a generator that consequently produces electricity at the onset of darknesss until 10 pm. Occasionally, along the length of the pipeline, holes with small hoses inserted in it supply water in the adjoining farms.

makeshift dam
A dam made of sacks, sticks, poles, gravel and sand and reused materials from the junkyard of a mining company in Sitio Bohoy.

Is the mini-hydro an original invention? Of course not, but it arose through simple diffusion of technology.

When our group asked him how we was able to conceptualize the mini-hydro, he simply said “I saw it on TV.” His large television set, presumably one of those cheap, surplus televisions from Japan, once gets its power from a 12-volt truck battery. Now, the electricity generated by the mini-hydro powers the television including a karaoke. This turned the once quiet nights of the community into nights of singing and merrymaking.

Cultural Diffusionism and Acculturation

What struck me upon seeing the makeshift mini-hydro is the influence this technology can impose on the culture of the indigenous tribe – the Pala’wan. Technology diffused to this community through the television gradually worked its way into their way of life, changing their once unique heritage of cultural mores and beliefs.  This is a classic example of cultural diffusionism, defined by Titiev (1958:446) as the spread of a cultural item from its place of origin to other places.

I bring up this issue remembering the discussion I had with an anthropologist during one of the training I attended two years ago. She said that she would like to study the indigenous tribes of Palawan. But I said, those indigenous groups no longer exist, knowing that many of them intermarried with immigrants and citing this particular story.

The Pala’wans have already been acculturated. Theirs is a polluted culture. Wouldn’t you agree?

Reference:

Titiev, M. (1958). Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

© 2013 July 6 P. A. Regoniel