Not an environmentalist

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

DON’T get me wrong. I’m flattered that people label me an environmentalist, that colleagues in media recognize my work for the environment and on biodiversity.

The truth is, I don’t think of myself as an environmentalist. In my travel documents, I list down “development professional” as my line of work. If I have to be specific, I will jot that as a sustainable mountain development professional.

In my work, I look at biodiversity from the perspective of human ecology. That means food security in the context of the food web and the food chain.


Although I handled several civil society initiatives on reforestation as a measure to rehabilitate our dwindling tropical rainforests, they are not the sum total, the be-all, end-all on protecting our forests.

I look at forestry from a community perspective. How mountain human communities can judiciously and sustainably use forest natural resources for food and improvement of their quality of life.

To be sure, I have many environmentalist friends. They deal with sustainable natural resource use conservation, but largely they skirt economic issues.

Use implies the alternative natural resource such as non-timber forest products. Why arrest timber and wildlife poachers inside protected areas when the State is unable to provide these users with other less destructive sources of livelihoods?

In the same way, I look at organic agriculture as a means to conserve and integrate various plant and animal products. That means not just the rejection of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or of genetically modified organisms but also the promotion of agrobiodiversity as a subset of biodiversity conservation.

That means rice and corn production, and mixed with fruits and vegetables, poultry and livestock, all for the benefit of producers, traders, retailers and consumers.

Thus, their State engagement is usually based on putting the government to task for failing to regulate or apprehend poachers. And the local governments respond by turning on the screws on charcoal makers. My problem with that is not the use of the iron fist but the lack of the use of the velvet glove.

But I seldom hear them talk about poverty alleviation, or even the promotion of the green economy, on how to regulate and use the market to save the environment and develop the green economy.

Sustainability for me should be ecological and economic. Tell that to a farmer timber poacher and he would reply if he can feed his children on biodiversity.

I dislike the sugar industry as a sustainable development professional because of the State support for a monoculture.

Thank God, our local political leaders are finally waking up that there is more to life than sugarcane and sugar production, and that more and more are talking of diversification, the economic side of biodiversity.

Negrenses lost many of their lowland and even upland rainforests because land use was tied down to a single crop. Government protected these monocultures even when they converted secondary growth forests into sugarcane haciendas.

Now the times are a changing. In engaging the State, I deal not just with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, but also with the Department of Agriculture and that of Trade and Industry, and local governments.

So when people introduce me, please describe my work not as an environmentalist but as a sustainable development professional.


Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 08, 2014.


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