In Memoriam Rev. Delbert Arthur Rice

We have lost a good friend and a remarkable person who was committed to the well-being of the people and landscapes of the Philippines, say Meine van Noordwijk and Grace Villamor


Surrounded by his family and friends, Rev. Delbert Rice passed away on Thursday, 8 May 2014 in his beloved Imugan.

Rev Delbert Rice, Robert Coombs foto, Ikalahan, Kalahan, Philippines, ecosystem services

Rev. Delbert (Pastor) Rice speaking at an ecosystems services fair. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Alfie Torres/Kharmina Anit

He was the champion of the Ikalahans, an indigenous group in the northern part of the Philippines. He contributed to increasing respect for, and legal recognition of, the indigenous people of the Philippines and has played a pivotal role in transforming the landscape of the Kalahan mountain range where the Ikalahans live. Through his inspiration and their own will to succeed, they have become a widely known example of the way livelihoods and ecological concerns can be combined.

Living as an American missionary, Pastor (as he was commonly called by his friends) penned the traditional ecological knowledge of the Ikalahan people. Among the favourites are, Life in the Forest: Ikahalan Folk Stories, a collection of tales about the distinctive characteristics of the Ikalahans and their peaceful way of life in the uplands, and Ecology: Ti Urnos Ti Lubong, a book written in the Ilokano language that features the four ecological principles of the Ikalahan—cycles, symbiosis, succession and food chain—that keep the balance of the ecosystem.

He was a very active partner in the Rewarding Upland Poor for Environmental Services (RUPES) project that started in Asia a decade ago and helped shape the learning of many of the scientists and other people who were involved in the project and, consequentially, the many millions of future generations who will be reaping its rewards. A short video interview with him, recorded at the closing workshop of the project in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, the Philippines, can be viewed here.

He emphasized, from the perspective of the community to whom he belonged, the need for integrated approaches that combine water, biodiversity and carbon. He also stressed the need to start with respect:

‘The lowlanders haven’t even sent a “thank you” note for all the clean water they received from us’.

On our first visit to Imugan, we had to pass the test of our commitment to the basic values he stood for, as he had learned the hard way that outsiders can try to take over agendas from the people they were supposed to support. Once accepted, a warm friendship followed. A very versatile man, he was an educator, an engineer, an anthropologist, an environmentalist, a farmer, a historian and a dear friend.

The world has lost a remarkable person whose influence will continue and whose name will be remembered in our circles.


NB: In the course of writing this memorial, we discovered that a species of earthworm has been named after him:

Archipheretima ricei sp. n. The Rev. Delbert Rice is an American missionary (retired) who, while serving the people of Imugan, established the Kalahan Foundation and some forest reserves in the area. The Rev. Rice deserves great credit for protecting some of the last remnants of the forest of the Caraballo Mountains, a transverse range crossing northern Luzon. This species is named in his honour.”

James SW. 2009. Revision of the earthworm genus Archipheretima Michaelsen (Clitellata: Megascolecidae), with descriptions of new species from Luzon and Catanduanes Islands, Philippines. Organisms Diversity & Evolution 9(3): 244.



Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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