Status of Philippine Environmental Degradation

The Philippine environmental degradation had been progressive through the years. According to a study by the Environmental Scientists for Social Change (ESSC), the country has fifty major rivers now polluted due to abuse and neglect and approximately two-thirds of the country’s original mangroves have been lost. Accordingly, a hundred years ago, the Philippines had close to 22 million hectares of old growth forest but at the start of 2000, less than 600,000 hectares of old-growth forest is left. In one century, close to 97 percent of our original forest had been cut down. The study further revealed a systematic cutting down of this forest and have continued its destruction and that of its remaining biodiversity.

As per report of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), it estimates that it takes over 4,000 liters of water to produce one kilo of rice. Because of the loss of forests, we have less water that go back to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration thus less rainfall. Moreover with the absence of forests, less rainwater is stored in our watersheds resulting also to inadequate water for irrigation purposes. Thus, loss of forests is equated to loss of food.

The degradation of the country’s environment and extensive deforestation for the last century can be traced to some factors including continuous illegal logging, agricultural development, and urbanization projects, among others. Continued forest loss in the country which is presently estimated at only 3% of its original forest cover, have resulted to severe soil erosion in some areas and flooding, that threatens not only humans but also the country’s rich biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity is one of the major environmental problems in the country since many of the species are mostly endemic and people depend on these forests for food, shelter and medicine. Moreover, forest conservation pose a big challenge for government planners, researchers and policy makers since some factors such as inconsistent laws, inadequate regulations, weak enforcement and lack of funding are still an ever present problem. Figure 1 below showed the decline of Philippine forest cover from 90% of the country’s total land area in 1934 to around 20% in 2010.

Fig. 1. Philippine forest cover from 1930-2010 in million hectares and % of total land area

The land degradation in the Philippines especially in sloping areas is brought about by a complex of factors such as lack of adequate forest cover, high rainfall and soil types. The massive conversion of forestlands into agricultural activities resulted to massive soil erosion, resulting to large-scale degradation of land resources. The most prominent after effects are reduced land productivity and yield of crops. High sloping lands classified as suitable only for forest purposes and for planting of deep-rooted trees to prevent soil erosion are being cleared and planted to annual crops such as corn and bananas where soil becomes exposed and vulnerable to soil erosion. The Philippines is a tropical country where rainfall is high throughout the year and lack of adequate vegetation, with the bare and cultivated soil exposed to heavy rains and coupled with high slopes which brings down slopes whatever nutrients that are available in the top soil. Use of kaingin system or shifting agriculture which repeatedly use fire in land preparation aggravates the land degradation and soil erosion leaving the soil nutrient-poor where grasslands such as cogon (Imperata cylindrica) only prevails. After two or three cropping season, productivity and yield declines leaving the farmer with less or no income at all. Soil erosion loss is a serious problem and it is very important to address this problem through investment in research and development.

The benefit of soil conservation technologies, or shifting away from erosive land use, is the avoidance of this soil loss in the long term. Direct interventions involved immediate maintenance costs to realize these benefits while indirect interventions change the incentive structure of technology adoption. From a social benefit-cost perspective,   direct interventions could be worthwhile, however when farmers face credit and liquidity constraints, then farmers would forego these investments. Meanwhile among the indirect interventions, tenure has an ambiguous   effect and removal of domestic protection of corn has a positive effect on soil conservation. As upland farmers with the large population of subsistence corn growers, are among the poorest segments of the rural population, planting of permanent crops for soil and water conservation must be pursued.