By Roy Mabasa
Work gets underway to ensure that food security is attained in Siargao, one of the most pristine islands in the Philippines.
Leading the efforts are Marinduque-based social enterprise AGREA and United States conservation group RARE– two internationally acclaimed organizations known for their advocacy in promoting agriculture and fishery conservation. They are teaming up with the different local governments of Siargao to ensure that the world famous island will be self-sustainable in terms of its food and fishery supplies amid the growing number of tourists visiting the island all year round.
At the launch of the Food Sustenance and Security Project over the weekend, Surigao Del Norte first district Rep. Jose Francisco “Bingo’ Matugas II said it is about time to start working on the food sustainability due to the huge influx of both foreign and local tourists visiting the island.
Rep. Matugas noted that most of the food supplies in Siargao being consumed by the locals, especially the resorts and restaurants, are being sourced from outside the island, the nearest of which is Surigao City.
“Our rationale is to make the island sustainable for the benefit of our children and the generation to come,” the congressman said.
AGREAN chief executive officer Cherrie Atilano, for her part, expressed optimism about the potentials of Siargao in becoming a “one island economy” that is “zero waste, zero hunger, and zero insufficiency.”
With the cooperation of all the stakeholders, Atilano, who was awarded by the Asia Pacific CSR Council and UN Global Compact the Global Responsible Business Award 2017 for Agriculture Excellence, said the island can start a movement of a farm-to-table on a massive scale which is happening in Manila.
To start with, she said her organization has to first work with the farmers and the business owners to determine the basic ingredients needed in the island.
Part of this, said Atilano, is to push for inclusiveness where the existing businesses would source their food stocks like vegetables from Siargao farmers.
On the other hand, RARE director Adonis Sucalit expressed his concern about the growing problem of overfishing not just in Siargao but in the entire Philippines as well.
Since they started their conservation program in Siargao, particularly in the municipalities of Dapa and Del Carmen several years ago, Sucalit noted a 400 percent rebound on fish biomass.
He noted that one of the advocacies of RARE is to make sure that there is the right size of marine-protected areas by working closely with the local government units (LGUs) to establish municipal marine protected areas, expanding them and putting them in the right places, and looking what is underneath.
While it is mainly known as a behavioral change organization, RARE is also for its social marketing approaches such as in correcting the destruction of the coral reefs due to the illegal method of fishing.
Furthermore, part of RARE’s behavioral campaign is to recognize the fisherfolks by helping them register and have the license to fish. Second is to guide them to the right place outside the marine protected areas.
Sucalit said they are in the process of coordinating with the various LGUs to identify the “manage access areas’ so that fishermen will no longer intrude in the “no-take zones.”
RARE will be also working with resort and restaurant owners in gathering information on what their customers want to eat. This, he said, would help them assess the stocks of the species that are in demand.
Considered the center of global coral ecosystem biodiversity, the Philippines’ waters contain almost 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs, large swaths of mangrove forests and more marine-protected areas than any other country.
According to RARE, more than 1.6-million small-scale fishers and their families rely on coastal waters to provide income and sustenance. They are among the poorest and most vulnerable sectors in the country.
It noted that the average catch per day has been declining steadily for decades. Fishers now spend more time at sea, going further and further from home, for smaller yields.
Siargao is a famous destination for surfers from various parts of the world and home to Asia’s biggest mangrove forest covering an area of about 9,000 hectares. The mangrove serves as habitat for rare endangered species of flora and fauna both in marine, wetland, and terrestrial areas.