South Cotabato, SK provinces bat for ‘ecotourism highway’

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 February) – In a bid to enhance their environmental protection and conservation initiatives, the local governments of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat are jointly pushing for the development of an “ecotourism highway” within the critical watershed of a major river traversing the area.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said they have launched a joint study to look into the viability of developing portions of the Allah River’s watershed within the two provinces into ecological and cultural tourism sites.

He said they have tapped the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLADA), an environmental body comprising 11 local governments in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces traversed by the Allah River, to spearhead the project.

“We’re looking at developing the existing resorts in the area into eco and cultural tourism havens and later tap them to lead the implementation of protection and conservation initiatives within the watershed areas,” Pingoy said.

The governor earlier joined a tour of several resorts within the proposed “ecotourism highway,” which was considered to cover the municipalities of Lake Sebu, T’boli, Surallah and Sto. Nino in South
Cotabato and Esperanza, Bagumbayan and Isulan in Sultan Kudarat.

Pingoy said the resorts they have visited have high potentials of becoming top ecotourism destinations if properly developed.

“But based on initial estimates, we will need around P40 million to pursue this (ecotourism highway),” he said.

The governor said they are planning to seek possible financial grants from local and international development institutions for the project’s funding and implementation.

He said they initially sought assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which recently approved a grant of P6.3 million to AVLADA through the Local Government Support
Program-Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED).

The project mainly aims to develop ecotourism as a major economic driver and eventually stimulate economic growth through the generation of ecotourism related business and job opportunities, an AVLADA briefer said.

“The end goal is to see change in the economic condition of the people in the Allah Valley area through eco-cultural tourism,” it further described the project, which will end in 2013.

AVLADA, which is a recipient of the Galing Pook Awards in 2009, was established as an offshoot of a major flashflood that hit Allah River on September 6, 1995, which left 53 people dead and devastated
millions worth of infrastructure, agricultural crops and properties.

Allah River, considered as one of the biggest river systems in southern and central Mindanao, traverses the provinces of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces and drains towards Liguasan Marsh, the Rio Grande de Mindanao and eventually the Moro Gulf.

Based on AVLADA’s records, at least 67 barangays traversed by the Allah River and twin tributary Banga River were exposed to various risks due to flooding problems.

AVLADA’s programs and strategies include capability and institution building, information and education campaign, remote sensing – GIS Mapping, community mapping for barangay development, riparian zone re-vegetation, rainforestation and upstream resource management and sub-watershed adoption and forestland co-management. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)