DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A major watershed in Mindanao is being eyed for the implementation of Payment for Ecological Services (PES), an incentive mechanism designed to strengthen management of natural resources and ecosystems that provide goods and services to the public and key industries.

The Libungan Watershed, a 53,177-hectare area that spans across the provinces of Cotabato and Maguindanao is being considered for PES to encourage the efficient and sustainable use of the resources that are being provided by the watershed and its surrounding areas.

A watershed is described as an area of land that contains common set of streams and rivers that drain into a single larger body of water. The Libungan Watershed is home to eco-tourism sites and two river irrigation systems (RIS) that provide water to 4,496 hectares of rice lands, a major crop that drive economic growth in the two provinces.

The municipalities of Pigcawayan, Aleosan, Libungan, Midsayap, Alamada, Pikit and Banisilan, which have formed into an alliance of local government units called PALMA + PB will directly participate in the proposed PES and oversee the implementation of the mechanism.

"The idea of subjecting Libungan Watershed to PES has met a positive response from respondents," said Dr. Carmelita Martinez, PES Consultant of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).

During the recently concluded 1st Mindanao Policy Research Forum held at the Insular Waterfront Hotel here in this city, Dr. Martinez presented "Developing PES Mechanism with River Basin Organization (RBOs) in Mindanao" which highlighted the result of a pilot study on PES for the Libungan Watershed commissioned by MinDA.

The forum was co-organized by MinDA and the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

Dr. Martinez said "the pilot study revealed that 92 percent of respondents are willing to pay for the protection of Libungan Watershed," while adding "those who cannot pay have expressed willingness to volunteer their time in any protection and conservation project."

In the implementation of PES, the farmers or landowners who have agreed to manage natural resources such as forests, watersheds, rivers, and streams are given incentive payments for rendering ecological services such as replanting of trees and ensuring the survival of the trees planted. Payments are made by the beneficiaries of the environmental services such water users, companies that benefit irrigation systems and industry stakeholders.

The PES mechanism is also seen to enhance the protection of biodiversity that provide environmental goods such as food, freshwater, fuel, fiber and other natural resources that are used as inputs to the production process that help move the economy.

"PES is a market-based mechanism that will employ practical approaches and is not a program designed to reduce poverty," said Martinez while explaining "that PES is an economic incentive to foster more efficient and sustainable use of ecosystem services provided by the natural environment."

She added that well-functioning ecosystems provide services that are crucial to human survival such as clean air, pest and disease control, carbon sequestration and storage, controlled greenhouse gases, productive soil, and power sources.

The need to implement PES is bolstered by the findings of the study which revealed watershed degradation in various parts of Mindanao, Libungan included, caused by unregulated agricultural development and eco-tourism, illegal logging, population encroachment, and poverty of communities within the watershed area.

The Libungan Watershed is at risk for water pollution, land use change, soil erosion, siltation, flooding, and the lowering of Libungan River's water level. Unregulated human activities are putting pressure on the watershed's sustainability, specifically the quality of its water and landscape, as well as water availability.

Guided by Mindanao's roadmap to peace and development, Mindanao 2020, MinDA seeks to address ecologically-distressed areas in the island-region as it promotes a dynamic, inclusive, and green economy. It is a goal of Mindanao 2020 to implement PES in all major watersheds in Mindanao by 2030.

MinDA hopes to replicate PES initiatives in other River Basins in Mindanao as inspired by the two PES success stories: the LGU of Naawan and the Miarayon-Lapok-Lirongan-Tinaytayan Tribal Association (MILALITTRA) in Bukidnon.

The Local Government of Naawan institutionalized its PES initiative through its inclusion in their LGU Code Section 87 on the Development of Trust Fund for Watershed and Reforestation. The Mt. Kalatungan Range Natural Park benefits from PES through the successful collaboration of the Cagayan de Oro River Basin Management Council (CDORBMC), Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, and the tribal group MILALITTRA.

Study on PES is conducted through the Mindanao Knowledge Center (MKC) of MinDA that provides evidence-based policy researches for Mindanao's sustainable development, in support to the MindaNOW! Nurturing Our Waters Program or MindaNOW.

One of MinDA's flagship programs, MindaNOW integrates and harmonizes all watershed management and protection efforts in the island-region, with the PES as one of its support programs.
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