Using local ecological knowledge to assess smallholders’ vulnerability

Researchers in the Philippines are collecting local ecological knowledge from smallholders as a first step in supporting farmers’ adaptation to climate variability and market fluctuations



Using the Capacity-strengthening Approach to Vulnerability Assessment (CaSAVA) method, researchers are assessing the vulnerability of smallholders to climate and market variabilities at both the landscape and household levels.

Three sub-watersheds were included in the study, covering seven of 14 villages in Lantapan, Bukidnon, which constitute an action-research site for the Climate-smart, Tree-based Co-investment in Mitigation and Adaptation in Asia (Smart Tree-Invest) project.

To capture the information needed about the landscapes, key informant interviews and focus-group discussions were conducted. A total of six topics in the interviews and five in the discussion groups were covered by the study. To begin with, interviews were carried out in the seven villages, 3–11 September 2014 on 1) Shocks, Exposure, Response and Impact (SERI); 2) Drivers of Land-use Change (DriLUC); and 3) Assets. These were conducted at the same time as the discussion groups about SERI and Tree and Farming System Preference (TREEFARM).

SERI aims to determine natural and market-related events within the last 10 years that affected the availability of food, reduced income and brought other losses to a community and to assess how the community responded. Natural events include flooding, typhoons and drought while other factors might include increases in food prices, rising costs of farming inputs (such as fertilizers) and decreases in production prices.

PhotoVoice, Smart Tree-Invest, Philiippines

Photo Voice description: Marita Biceno’s field usually gets flooded when it rains a lot. The barrier made out of packed sacks helps keep the flood from washing out her crops. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Marita Biceno

TREEFARM explores the resilience of various farming systems and the durability of tree species to extraordinary events related to climate and markets. Respondents were asked to identify farming systems and tree species in their village and then list those they preferred along with the criteria for choosing them.

In DriLUC, respondents were asked to describe land-use changes observed in the last 15–20 years and the perceived impact on their livelihoods and the environment.

The study’s gender-sensitive approach meant that two participants (one male and one female) per village were identified as key informants for the interviews through the help of Department of Agriculture technicians in Lantapan, while 14 farmers (seven male and seven female) per village participated in the discussion groups. It was observed that discussions in all-female groups were longer in duration than those in the all-male groups. Females tended to answer in detail, unlike the males, who easily responded with a collective answer. In the midland and lowland villages, women were perceived to know more about their farms. This might be because most male farmers in these areas were already working in plantations as hired labourers, leaving the women to work their own farms.

Results from SERI revealed that the most common shocks experienced were flooding, typhoons and fluctuations in the production prices of commodities.

Flooding occurred along the riverbanks, usually after a typhoon. During floods, most farm areas near the river were washed out. In response, the local government provided assistance to the affected families through provision of free seedlings. Those who did not have access to the government programs just replanted their farms themselves after the flood using loans or their own capital.

The TREEFARM discussion revealed that, in general, existing farming systems and tree species matched the preferences of farmers. Popular tree species include Acacia falcata, Brazilian fire tree and fruit trees, such as lanzones, rambutan and durian. Farming systems included monocropping and mixed cropping of high-value crops, such as corn, sugarcane and fruit trees. The tree species and farming systems helped the farmers cope with the shocks as they are not only sources of cash income but also of food and building materials.

Within the last 15 years, the respondents reported that little to no change in land use had occurred. Vegetable farms and banana, pineapple, maize and sugarcane plantations have been the land-use type during this period. Respondents were then asked to trace land-use changes in the area over the last 20–30 years. The original land-use types observed were ‘abacá’ (Musa textilis), coffee, maize and timber trees. Generally, land-use changes in Lantapan have had a positive impact on the livelihoods of the community but have also resulted in landscape degradation.

The participatory approach of CaSAVA is not only helping the collection of local ecological knowledge from the smallholders of Lantapan but is also increasing their awareness of the issues in their landscapes, encouraging practical adaptation solutions at the community-level.




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This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s component on Landscape Management of Forested Areas for Environmental Services, Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihoods.'

Kharmina Anit

Kharmina Paola A. Anit has recently rejoined the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Philippines as a National Consultant for Smart Tree-Invest, an IFAD-funded project. She worked for ICRAF in 2011-2013 under the payments for ecosystem services (PES) component of the Ridge to Reef Project. Her research interests are resource economics, population dynamics and PES. Kharmina is currently taking up MS in Environmental Science at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Some of her publications are about the willingness to pay for water services and the use of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool in enhancing the effectiveness of PES.

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