Ama includes Dangulug (white lauan) in his record notebook.

How community mapping inspires local participation in forest restoration

The power of community mapping for forest restoration in the Philippines with Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests.

A future under the forest canopy: that’s the vision of the Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests, an Indigenous youth and women-led initiative established in 2022 in Bukidnon, a landlocked province of Northern Mindanao in the Philippines. The collective is composed of Indigenous youth leaders and farmers from upland communities in the Tangkulan mountain range.

Canopy in the Tangkulan range, Quezon, Bukidnon

Salumayag Youth is composed mainly of Manobo youth leaders and farmers who hope to work with upland Indigenous communities to improve the stewardship of their ancestral forests through regenerative practices and narratives.

The youth collective took its name from the Salumayag tree, or commonly known as Almaciga, Agathis philipenensis – a native tree that produces a resin that is traditionally used to produce light. According to Manobo tradition, the Salumayag tree is also home to Magumanuy, the guardian spirit that protects the high mountains.

A Salumayag tree standing tall in the Tangkulan range.

Reweaving forest fragmentation

The ancestral landscapes of the Manobo-Kulamanen people have been deeply and adversely affected by persistent chemical-based farming of corn, banana, Falcatta trees and other cash crops. The remaining forests can still be seen in the far distance, disconnected from the people that have coexisted with it for generations.

But these divides are not only seen in the landscape. The community has also seen palpable changes to its way of life: it no longer has safe drinking water, as land and waters are connected, meaning chemicals used in agriculture, which poisons the sacred soil, also find their way into streams and rivers.

And when farmers can no longer predict when typhoons are likely to come, landslides and flooding pose real life-threatening risks and disrupt basic services such as education and healthcare.

Indigenous farmers understand that this is a crisis – and that collective action is needed to bring about transformative change, not just in how we live in relation to the land, but also with each other.

The Linabasan river in Tangkulan.

How community mapping can optimize participation

One of Salumayag Youth’s main activities is known as farm boundary and water source regeneration. Landscape regeneration starts at farm boundaries and water sources. These areas were determined by the local farmers in a community mapping exercise they participated in a year ago.

Today, Manobo foresters partner with local farmers to start the regeneration process by planting native trees that are appropriate to the areas around their farm boundaries.

Community mapping in 2022 to determine critical areas for regeneration.

We sent a field team to guide partner farmers, composed of Robert (29), Ranel (29), Ama (19) and Dina (18), who conduct regular site visits, monitoring and assessment. Field work usually starts very early in the morning. Robert and Ranel, as more senior forest managers, train the youth apprentices, Ama and Dina, on how to conduct area monitoring and mapping. On one of their more recent visits, the team carried out an area survey and later mapped the area.

Community mapping is one of the tools Indigenous foresters use to encourage participation from various members of the community. Robert, who is the head of field operations, leads the process. He teaches Ama to identify key landscape landmarks to delineate boundaries and determine specific regeneration zones.

Ama listens intently as Robert points to landscape landmarks.

The apprentices’ task is to carry out an inventory of the current vegetation in the regeneration zone and also monitor native trees that were planted by the partner farmers in previous months to see whether they thrived.

Dina makes notes on the lower area.

Dina was assigned to cover the lower area, where the slopes were mostly planted with banana and corn.  

Ama, on the other hand, covered the hills and also recorded some of the volunteer trees that are present in the area. 

Ama includes Dangulug (white lauan) in his record notebook.
Ranel verifies the data collected.

Ranel conducts an overall assessment of the process to make sure that all elements of the area inventory have been covered so that a complete map can be made. He double-checks the notes from the apprentices’ records and makes corrections as needed.

Ayu Jona (Aunt Jona), as she is fondly nicknamed by the younger forest managers, is one of the most active partner farmers and started planting native trees in her own farm area after joining the forest collective in 2022.

During the team’s field visit, Ayu Jona mentioned some of the difficulties she had faced during the typhoon season in previous years, particularly soil erosion. But she also noted that this issue has improved significantly since she started planting native trees and diversifying her garden area.

She also cultivated Abaca (Manila hemp) for its fiber, where she had previously used herbicides. After she stopped this practice, she noticed an improvement in the soil and in the health of the Abaca trees.

Ayu Jona shows where runoff water previously caused erosion during the rainy season.

Together with the Salumayag Youth field team, Ayu Jona created a plan to regenerate her farm boundaries using native trees. 

Ayu Jona plants a Salumayag seedling in the slope area along her farm’s boundary to help prevent soil erosion.

As an expression of gratitude for a day of hard work and camaraderie, the partner farmers and the forest managers shared simple meals of corn grits and steamed vegetables.

“Bugas mais” (corn grits) and “utanon” (vegetables) for lunch.

After a full day of working in the field, the team regrouped the next day to plot out their data on a sheet of manila paper to create a community map. This map is now an important piece of documentation of one of the regeneration sites and a vital reference point for monitoring the success of the team’s interventions.

The product of hard work: Ama proudly holds up the area map the team created based on the data they collected from their field work.

Article tags

Forest restorationRestoration StewardYouth

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.