A year of youth leadership in forest restoration

All photos courtesy of the Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests.

Small up-and-coming youth-led community organizations rarely have the opportunity to showcase their restoration work on a global stage. That’s why being selected as the 2023 Forest Restoration Steward has been such a transformative blessing not just for myself but also for the communities we support at the Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests. 

Over the past year, I’ve been on a very positive journey of learning, discovering, and creative expression with the Global Landscape Forum (GLF) and the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) through the Restoration Stewards program. 

Gloria Amor Paredes at Kulaman River, with the Tangkulan mountain range in the background.

My engagement with the GLF and YIL has opened up many doors for me and my team. I had the opportunity to participate in the GLF Youth Asia-Pacific Project Team, and with them, I helped design the Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue.  As a keynote speaker at this session, I had the chance to share some thoughts on sustainable land use planning for climate justice and the challenges of grassroot organizations in accessing climate finance. 

Looking back on the experience, I feel grateful to have had the chance to discuss deeply relevant topics to gather support and recognition for community-based ecological initiatives.

Conducting an area survey on a partner farmer’s land. 

With the seed grant that we received from the Restoration Stewards program, we were able to reach critical milestones in our work as an Indigenous youth- and women-led organization for the restoration and conservation of forests. 

First, we were able to upgrade our tree nurseries and provide a basic allowance for our Indigenous volunteer foresters. As a fruit of this investment, we produced community maps of our partner farmers’ regeneration areas and provided hands-on training to our forest management apprentices.

The results of these exercises enabled us to continue exploring innovative ways to upscale and improve our forest management interventions. 

“Tuun sa Payag” session with community kids collecting Tugas (Vitex parviflora) seeds to be germinated in our native tree nursery

We were also able to organize Tuun sa Payag (Learning in the Hut) sessions for children from the community aged 7 to 16. These are weekend nature and arts sessions where the kids learn about and participate in the forest restoration work. 

As we are a ‘youth collective’ for forests, the most fun part of our work is always engaging kids and youth in our mission to protect the forest. It brings me the greatest joy seeing young people in the community become more confident the more they actively engage in our learning activities. 

As I watched the youngest members of our collective creatively articulate why they want to be a part of the solution to the ecological crisis, I was filled with hope and a notion that we are making small but significant changes in spaces where it matters the most.  

As we continue consulting with local communities to understand the best ways to restore landscapes, it has become apparent that we need to explore how sustainable livelihoods could take form in the context of upland communities.  These people are already grappling with the challenges of navigating a market economy dominated by corporate-controlled agriculture. 

Witnessing the challenges faced by these communities, we have always been reminded of our mission. Our direction as an organization has always been centered on building genuine farmer-led food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty initiatives: collective farming and seed saving

The mission to nurture food sovereignty was directly reflected in our actions. Over the past year, we have started to establish an ecopreneurial venture with our partner farmers who are already producing organic vegetables and other crops.

The Bukidnon Seed Stewards Program has allowed us to advance our existing efforts into creating income-generation opportunities for farmers through our collective farming activities and saving heirloom seeds through our community seed saving initiative.

Takurug Ki, a local cafe and market.

A portion of the seed fund was used to build a small cafe and local market space where the partner farmers can display and sell their organic produce and even their handicrafts, like weaved baskets and beaded traditional accessories.

Although we still have a long way to go to effectively implement this ecopreneurship element into our work, we are thankful to finally take our first steps and learn by trial and error.

Women and girls leading the Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests.

I also want to highlight that with the support of the Restoration Stewards program, we were able to organize and facilitate important community events to share about our work more broadly with various community stakeholders and nurture stronger connections. 

The community launch of the ‘reweaving future forests’ flagship program.

We also achieved important milestones in building relationships with key government agencies to champion forest restoration. We advocated for these efforts to be prioritized not just in environmental planning but also in broader development planning in our municipality and province.

Building a stronger presence within institutional politics has always been something that we have wanted to do but had struggled with in the past due to resource constraints. Today, the Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests sits at our municipality’s Local Youth Development Council, where we use our voice to shape  youth development planning.

A meeting with the Bukidnon Environmental and Natural Resource Office and Municipal Environment and Natural Resource Office.

There is still so much that we want to create! I feel excited about the future and I know that my team and I are already part of a supportive community that will always root for us in our forest restoration journey here on Mindanao in the Philippines. 

I am in awe of my fellow Restoration Stewards, who are making unbelievable efforts around the world and whose work will always inspire me. I feel privileged to collaborate with the amazing GLF-YIL team, who transformed this program into an uplifting and supportive community, and I consider them as friends who I am most grateful for. 

The past year has been the gift of a lifetime, and I look forward to staying connected with the Restoration Stewards community as I move on to my next chapter.

Solidarity, peace, future: three key words guiding our next chapter

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