Almaciga: Lighting up lives in Governor Generoso (First Part)

Vice Mayor Vicente Orencia of Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental. MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

GOVERNOR GENEROSO, Davao Oriental (MindaNews/06 August) – This coastal town used to be called Sigaboy, a name that has remained widely used by both locals and outsiders. The word came from “siga”, short for almaciga, so called for its resin that serves as fuel, and “boy” to refer to the boys who would carry the resin harvested from the tree and sell it in the lowlands. For years, it served as a livelihood for many families.

However, since harvesting almaciga resin would take days and the local market (read Chinese buyers) offered little returns, upland residents, mostly Mandaya and Manobo Lumad and some Bisaya locals, shifted to cutting forest trees for firewood and charcoal.

“During Christmases and enrolment time many of them would cut trees. Since this meant risking arrest by environment officials and law enforcers it didn’t become a steady source of income. Besides, prices for fuelwood were also low,” former mayor and now Vice Mayor Vicente Orencia said.

Their constant bout with poverty often led many Lumad to line up outside Orencia’s home to beg for money and other forms of assistance. Another thing that worried the official was the prospect of losing the forests of Mount Hamiguitan, a protected area which was added to the World Heritage List in 2014, and with it the culture of its indigenous inhabitants.

People’s survival equals forest preservation

Aware of the natural abundance of almaciga (Agathis philippinensis) in Governor Generoso and the market potential of resin, Orencia thought it would make an excellent alternative livelihood for forest dwellers, as it will leave the forests intact. He started working on this project since 2007 with Joey Gamao, the municipal tourism officer, as his focal person.

“I had three purposes in mind when I embarked on this project – poverty reduction, preservation of Lumad culture and forest protection to help address climate change,” Orencia said.

“Now no Lumad has come to me to ask for medicines and other needs. They’re grateful [for the project]. Every time they come down to sell their product they can now buy rice, sugar, salt. They no longer cut trees.

Joey Gamao at the resin buying station of Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental. MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

“Of course, they plant coffee and corn. But since they have to wait for months before they can harvest they would cut trees while waiting. So we showed them a computation of how much they would spend and earn from cutting trees which requires a chainsaw compared to resin harvesting which doesn’t need capital,” he said.

Gamao said it was indeed the poverty among upland dwellers that inspired them to come up with a sustainable livelihood program that will leave the forest intact. He said law enforcement would not suffice to stop forest destruction. “We can only preserve the forest by helping the people,” he stressed.

“If we arrest them for cutting trees, they would tell us, ‘Sir, what will our family eat?’ Sometimes they would just eat twice a day, sometimes they had to be content with kamoteng kahoy (cassava),” he said.

An almaciga tree. Contributed photo

He said the Lumad expressed willingness to cooperate with the local government’s plan but complained about the absence of support to wean them away from cutting trees. “They told me, ‘Maayo pa ang Philippine Eagle kay naay budget, kami nga tao wala’ (The Philippine Eagle is better off because it has a budget, we who are humans have none).”

The people’s misgiving about the plan found Gamao immersing for one month in one community after another to know their needs and to persuade them to support the mayor’s vision. At times it would mean bringing sacks of rice and other foodstuff for the people who had given up cutting trees, which meant loss of income.

“I made a personal sacrifice by using my own money at first because there were no other persons to rely on. We held training on the proper way to tap resin, contacted a buyer in Cebu with whom we directly deal with. No middleman is allowed so that prices won’t go down,” Orencia said. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)