The environment and Mindanao’s future
Nowhere in the country has the economy-environment tradeoff been more evident than in Mindanao, whose natural wealth has been exploited over many decades for the benefit of a relative few, and at great cost to future generations. As an economy that has derived its growth primarily from resource extractive activities, Mindanao must build a sustainable future based on much more prudent management and stewardship of its inherent wealth than in the past. Mindanao 2020, the new 20-year blueprint for the island region formulated collectively by Mindanaoans over the last two years, is based on this key premise. What does this imply for the different production activities that will propel the Mindanao economy in the next 20 years?
Agriculture and agriculture-based industries will continue to be the most prominent driver of the Mindanao economy well into the future. But the right balance between large plantation agriculture and smallholder farming needs to be sought, to both widen benefits and sustain the environment. Apart from bananas, pineapple, oil palm and other plantation crops now dominating Mindanao’s exports, there must be stronger efforts to tap the potentials of non-traditional high value crops thriving in Mindanao, such as mangosteen, marang, lanzones, rambutan, pomelo, durian, and many more. These crops lend themselves to farming models based on sustainable smallholder systems, inasmuch as the existing structure in these crops are already primarily of this nature. Due to their highly perishable nature, expanding the markets for these crops will entail greater value-adding through processing, thereby presenting opportunities for further agri-based industries.
Organic farming and halal food production will expand within Mindanao’s farm sector, given its natural suitability for these specialty niche segments of the market. As these are inherently associated with sustainable production practices, their expansion will also be in keeping with the imperative of planning Mindanao’s future around an increasingly fragile environment.
The forestry industry can no longer rely on logging of old growth forests, which are close to depletion in Mindanao. Forest products must henceforth be derived from sustainable forestry based on well-managed commercial tree farming. Massive reforestation is called for in the face of large-scale deforestation over the past decades, now being manifested in serious environmental disasters such as landslides, devastating floods, and depleting groundwater resources.
Coastal and marine fisheries will have to be pursued in more carefully measured steps, to avoid the further depletion of fishery resources that has already impacted on the lives of millions of Mindanaoans. Mariculture will figure more prominently in Mindanao’s fisheries sector, particularly as efforts to rejuvenate marine fisheries resources through fishing moratoriums on key fishing grounds will reduce production from that source in the short to medium term.
Mining is in Mindanao to stay, and there is no room for extreme positions on this. A number of large mining projects are just starting or are in the pipeline, and it is widely agreed that the key imperative is to ensure responsible mining operations, whether by large, medium or small firms. The immediate need is to clearly define and get wide agreement on what it really means to do “responsible mining.” Apart from environmental sustainability, achieving broader benefits from the industry than is currently obtained needs to be addressed with appropriate policy and program interventions. Part of this is the need to ensure greater domestic value-adding in the industry, by encouraging more processing of mineral and metal products within the country and minimizing if not avoiding the direct export of raw mineral ores.
The prospects for industry and manufacturing will be severely constrained by energy availability and cost through the medium term. Large hydroelectric dams and power plants are now faced with greater risks to efficiency and profitability due to siltation of waterways and loss of surface water. In light of this, there must be a conscious move towards small hydroelectric plants and other renewable energy facilities (solar, wind, biomass), along with work to reforest and restore Mindanao’s watersheds.
Tourism development, particularly ecotourism, can be a “win-win” for the economy and environment, and must be pursued vigorously through policy reform and public investments. Much has been done in preparing the groundwork for this under a tourism cluster approach; what is needed is to reach Mindanao-wide consensus on the prioritization of tourism development initiatives, as well as in packaging tourism attractions.
Finally, peace and security are likely to be compromised anew within the next 20 years if various natural resource and environment pressures are not properly managed and allowed to lead to new tensions and conflicts. These pressures include tightening water supplies; competing claims over agricultural and mineral lands; depleting fisheries; and air, soil and water degradation due to pollution from mining and industrial activities. This makes it even more critical that ecosystems are planned and managed in a way that will prevent such pressures from even arising. Fostering common stewardship of the shared natural resourcebase across social, economic, cultural and political lines would help avert or minimize the likelihood that such tensions will arise and escalate into violent conflict in the future. Indeed, the very future of Mindanao rests on the future of its environment.
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