Gov’t agencies forge ties for agricultural heritage systems

The Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) signed a Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) recognizing and confirming Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (NIAHS) at Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on 10 March 2023.

NIAHS is a concept adapted from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) programme, which seeks to protect agricultural heritage systems — including its associated landscapes, biodiversity and knowledge systems — using a dynamic conservation approach.

Currently, the Philippines has only one declared GIAHS site, the Ifugao rice terraces. The country committed in the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) to declare at least 10 NIAHS by 2028. The JMC provides the means to recognize these systems and covers the incentives and benefits that will be provided to communities and municipalities to support their initiatives to protect and conserve their NIAHS.

The said JMC was crafted through the project titled, Dynamic conservation and sustainable use of agro-biodiversity in traditional agro-ecosystems of the Philippines also known as the Agrobiodiversity Project, which was funded by Global Environment Facility grant and collaboratively implemented by FAO and the DA-BAR.

Representing DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, assistant secretary for Regulations Atty. Paz Benavidez II officiated the signing ceremony together with DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau-Caves, Wetlands, and other Ecosystems division chief Anson Tagtag, NCIP chairperson Allen Capuyan, and NCCA executive director Oscar Casaysay. 

“This important measure grants the government both the authority to make early identification of these [agricultural heritage] systems and the means to act quickly and thoroughly to save them from extinction,” Asec. Benavidez, on behalf of Agriculture Senior Usec. Panganiban, said in the opening remarks.

Being the former Lead Policy specialist and consultant of the Agrobiodiversity project, Asec. Benavidez also thanked the partner agencies for their collaboration in the development and finalization of the said JMC.

FAO Representative in the Philippines Lionel Dabbadie and DA-BAR OIC-director Joell Lales served as witnesses during the ceremony.

“The recognition and confirmation of NIAHS are crucial for our mitigation and adaptation measures to combat climate change. The NIAHS is all about adaptation to reduce climate risk while providing viable options and solutions for residing communities to sustain their livelihood and improving their indigenous knowledge practices,” DA-BAR OIC-director Lales said.

FAO Representative Dabbadie, in his message, underscored the need to recognize both the natural and man-made threats that impact agrobiodiversity and the importance of dynamic conservation in ensuring sustained support to the livelihood of agricultural heritage systems’ caretakers toward preventing threats such as food insecurity and poverty.

He also thanked the DA, and its staff bureau, BAR, for their collaborative efforts in organizing the significant event.

Local communities through their local government units need to document, recognize, and protect their locally important agricultural heritage systems (LIAHS) in local plans before these can be recognized at the national level.

To date, documentation of LIAHS started in all the pilot municipalities of the project: Hungduan and Hingyon, Ifugao and in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The local government of Hingyon has already issued Municipal Ordinance no. 7, series of 2022 recognizing the traditional heirloom rice farming system as a LIAHS.

The following criteria are considered in recognizing NIAHS:  system support to local food security and livelihoods; high biodiversity, including agrobiodiversity; involvement of indigenous agro-ecological knowledge systems and practices; wider socio-cultural system that supports the agro-ecological practices; and remarkable landscape. (### Ma. Eloisa H. Aquino)