In a rural community in Mindoro, ecological problems not only result in poverty but are also triggered by it

“Poverty is both a driver and a result of complex ecological problems.”

This was the conclusion derived by Dr. Adrian Wagner of the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, Dr. David T. Yap of the School of Urban and Regional Planning of UP Diliman and Dr. Helen T. Yap of The Marine Institute of UP Diliman from examining interrelated socio-ecological variables in the coastal barangay of Udalo in Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro.

In the recently published article “Drivers and consequences of land use patterns in a developing country rural community,” the three researchers noted the “gradient of political and economic power [relations that exists] between the Tagalog majority and the indigenous majority (i.e., the Mangyans)” and how this “hinders efforts at poverty alleviation”.

Economic needs, they said, drive illegal logging and intensification of agriculture in the community.

This is because for many stakeholders, the direct use of ecosystem services is the only means of livelihood available to them. The indigenous people, for one, confront the daily challenge of food acquisition through intensified swidden farming (or kaingin), charcoal production and illegal logging.

But these traditional and non-traditional forms of agroforestry and agriculture in Mindoro have further diminished forest and soil resources, with soil identification and vegetation analyses pointing to unsustainable rates of erosion and reduced biodiversity in selected forest sites.

Variances in political power, wealth and information between the Tagalogs and the Mangyans have likewise brought about marginalization: the Tagalogs “consider themselves agents of the defining culture and regard the deprived indigenous [residents] with a mixture of compassion and pragmatism.” They have “an economic interest in keeping the Mangyans manipulable” and thus “appreciate” that some indigenous people in the area are gradually adapting to the Tagalog lifestyle. 

“Marginalization represents a hindrance to overcome poverty and therefore reinforces ecological problems,” the researchers asserted.

They called for solutions that consider the complexity and interconnectedness of problems, especially in view of the threat of self-energizing negative effects, for instance, “erosion and decreasing crop yields leading to greater pressure on remaining arable land, thus accelerating soil degradation and so on.”

Dr. Helen Yap is the main proponent of the research program “Social-ecological resilience on different spatial and temporal scales (emphasis on the coast)” upon which the paper was based.

Supported by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs through its Emerging Interdisciplinary Research program, the research seeks to derive a deeper and broader understanding of the dynamics of local communities (social systems) in selected coastal areas of the Philippines as they interact with their adjacent marine resources (focusing on coral reefs) from a complex systems perspective. Dr. David Yap, Dr. Prospero Naval of the College of Engineering of UP Diliman and Dr. Johnrob Bantang of the National Institute of Physics of UP Diliman serve as co-proponents.