It was humbling to see the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the Philippines for the first time, teeming with life and serving as a natural protection against flood, storm surges, and tsunamis. And it was both inspiring and frustrating to learn how a vulnerable yet progressive municipality in Siargao, the coastal town of San Benito, has been trying its best to work with constituents for disaster risk reduction in relation to climate change with very limited funds.
Image 1. San Benito is a coastal town with fishing as one of its main industries.
San Benito is a 6th Class municipality, and which is located on a narrow strip of land between the mountains and sea, therefore threatened by landslides and storm surges, among other hazards. Here, the LGU (including the Mayor!) and SIKAT, an indigenous science and technology NGO, shared with us the elements of their progressive Climate Change Adaptation scheme.
San Benito's Climate Change Adaptation scheme includes (among other things):
- a savings plan for farmers and fisherfolk - transition to high-value climate resilient crops, which would also require less land and therefore prepare the town for population growth - mangrove nursery and tree planting - very popular among the youth - switching to new types of fishing nets suited for catching more robust fish populations that are closer to the island, in order to use less fuel and reduce carbon emissions - introduction of permaculture so that farmers can have an income source while waiting for main crops to recover from disaster - beach forest management and yearly coastal clean ups - regenerating the local shellfish population and making shellfish, a dietary staple, affordable to the residents and not just to the tourists in the neighbouring surfing tourist town of General Luna
According to San Benito's DRRM Officer, the town's inhabitants used to engage in harmful practices such as dynamite fishing and mangrove cutting to supply charcoal to the Cebu lechon (whole roast pig) industry. Their awareness of the damage these practices inflict on their ecosystem encouraged them to advocate for more sustainable livelihood.
Image 2. San Benito Local Government shares their Climate Change Adaptation scheme to our group of sustainability scholars.
Of course, the situation isn't perfect. Despite the country being an archipelago, the Philippine national government focus on coastal management came in too late and was only formed and strengthened during the Ramos administration, as advised by Niva Gonzales, an environmental management expert who arranged our trip to San Benito.
Funds are also nowhere near enough, mechanisms for better coordination among agencies have yet to exist, and gathering data to form evidence-based plans is a challenge. Still, it is so heartening to see hope and agency find their way through the bleak predictions of climate change. Well done, San Benito!