International Women’s Day 2019: Think equal, build smart, innovate for change in the Philippines

World Agroforestry is based at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at Los Banos in the Philippines.

On March 8 the world celebrates International Women’s Day. In the Philippines, Cathy Watson interviewed one of ICRAF’s female scientists, Caroline Piñon also called Yuyen.

Caroline Piñon. Photo: ICRAF/Cathy Watson

Yuyen: I joined ICRAF after my Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies in 2000 and then went in 2003 for my Masters. I returned in 2006 and left in 2014 for my PhD. I am just finishing my thesis.

Cathy: Congratulations! How did you become interested in agroforestry?

Yuyen: When I was in high school in Davao, I could see Mount Apo, our tallest mountain, so I joined a mountaineering club. That meant a lot of walking through rural areas. On a university trip, I got to know ICRAF, and I told myself I want to work there.

Cathy: What is beautiful for you about agroforestry?

Yuyen: It’s the landscape first — how farmers arrange trees and crops. Second, I saw that some people were happy with agroforestry so I thought there must be something special. Years ago, I thought that as long as you combine trees and agricultural crops that’s already agroforestry. But I learned that trees have different functions. Women are more interested in trees that provide food, firewood and medicine. But male farmers are responsible for constructing houses so want timber.

Cathy: What is your PhD on?

Yuyen: I look at factors that influence farmers and other stakeholders’ decisions on land use. Farmers have different capacities and willingness. When we do local interventions, we need know this so that our projects are not wasted. You have to identify typologies. What also emerged is that people living in watersheds lack information and expertise. The quick response is to provide extension services. But what kind of extension services? I developed a model using Bayesian networks. In Mindanao, environmental extension services are lacking, and it is the multinational companies that have good extension. That is leading to the conversion of land into plantations of pineapple, banana and tobacco.

The Manila Palm (Adonodia merrillii) is native only to the Philippines. Photo:ICRAF/CWatson

The Philippines’ 7000 islands are home to thousands of endemic species. Photo: ICRAF/CWatson

Cathy: The conversion of forestry land?

Yuyen: Yes. Multinational companies are converting them. I recommend agroforestry and forestry extension services. If you just put in extension services focusing on high-valued crops, the conversion of land to monoculture plantation crops will continue because of the higher income the farmers can earn.

Cathy: Where do people get their food from under those plantation models?

Yuyen: They still plant white corn but usually in rolling areas that should not be cultivated. Increasingly they buy noodles and canned goods. There are still vegetables. But the tendency of the

farmers is that the best vegetables go to market. The diet has changed. They sell their agricultural products in the town and buy noodles, eggs, canned goods and foods that are easy to cook.

Cathy: Have you been able to work with the extension workers of the companies?

Yuyen:  It’s not easy. For my PhD, I did a lot of work to interview them as important stakeholders in the watershed. They said that my questionnaire and request had to go through their lawyer. I was unsuccessful.

White Lauan, an important tree species in the Philippines. Photo: World Agroforestry/Cathy Watson

Cathy: Did they appear to have environmental guidelines?

Yuyen: It varies. I had discussions with a the tobacco company. Some former ICRAF staff from our Land Care program have been hired by them. They do good work because we built their capacity. Even if they promote tobacco in sloping areas, they still require the farmer to maintain their contour and promote agroforestry. Exotic trees can include Eucalypts, Acacia mangium for N-fixing purposes, and the African tree, Maesopsis eminii, if they are interested to increase the number of birds. For the indigenous species, there is White Luaun (Shorea contorta).

Cathy: ICRAF now has a large project funded by Asian Development Bank.

Yuyen: Yes, we have a role under the ADB-funded Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Project. INREP is furthering the government’s forest landscape restoration. ICRAF’s main task is to provide technical assistance and capacity development to the Department of Environment and  Natural Resources, the main implementing agency, and to farmers. In between, there are decision makers; extension staff; the private companies; and the policymakers of the local government units.

Cathy: What policy might they introduce that will be beneficial for natural resources?

Yuyen: We could have an incentive-based policy for those who adapt good practices like agroforestry. Lots of projects are coming in. But at local level, it is usually the people who know important people who benefit. People in remote areas who have good farming practices rarely hear anything. With a rewards-based incentive system, local government units could reward those who are already have good farming practices so they will maintain them. This would influence those who do not have good farming practices so that they think ‘I want to do the same.’

Cathy: Finally, as a woman, how do you feel about yourself as a scientist and as someone who works within the community?

Yuyen: I’m happy. It makes you proud. I attend meetings, and most of the heads are male. There are very few females working at that level and in this field. I’m happy that ICRAF gave me this opportunity. I remember coming into ICRAF at the age of twenty and now ICRAF has really molded me to be a researcher. I hope I will be able to deliver.


World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

Cathy Watson

Cathy Watson is chief of programme development at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi. Before joining ICRAF in November 2012, she founded and ran two NGOs in Uganda -- Straight Talk Foundation and Mvule Trust. She was made a senior Ashoka fellow for social entrepreneurship in 2006. She has also been a foreign correspondent, working for The Guardian and the BBC, among others. A graduate in biology and Latin American Studies from Princeton, she has over 30 years of work experience in Africa with a focus on trees, youth, HIV, families, and communication for social change. She holds a graduate certificate in agroforestry from the University of Missouri.

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