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Multi-stakeholder effort mobilizes tax money for conservation and restoration

The devastating effects of tropical storms made people on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines painfully aware of the urgent need for more sustainable land use management. To ensure a river basin-wide approach for protection and restoration of the environment, a coalition of local civil society organisations pushed for the set-up of a river basin council uniting representatives from government, businesses, civil society and indigenous people. Their efforts resulted in an ordinance ensuring that all citizens of Cagayan de Oro City pay indirectly for the restoration and protection efforts by different stakeholders in the upstream areas.


From its headwaters in the biodiversity-rich forest areas of the Kalatungan and Kitanglad mountains and    across its 137,000-hectare catchment ending in Macajalar bay, different stakeholders depend on the ecosystem services by the river basin, such as clean water, fertile soil and climate resilience. Ancestral domains of indigenous peoples overlap with protected areas at the headwaters, while vast areas of pineapple and tomato plantations provide many jobs in the region.

Deforestation and illegal logging have caused erosion and siltation of the river basin, aggravated by tropical storms that increasingly hit the region as a result of climate change and cause severe flooding. Agriculture is also causing sedimentation and pollution affecting ecosystems downstream.

Restoration efforts such as tree planting have not always been implemented in the most strategic areas or failed due to a lack of incentives to maintain the efforts.

In 2011, the typhoon Washi caused thousands of deaths. This disaster made people painfully aware of the importance of more sustainable land use management. It instigated joint actions among the different stakeholders to better protect and restore the environmental services in the river basin.


In 2013 local civil society organizations in the Cagayan de Oro River Basin formed a coalition to advocate for a ‘ridge to reef’ approach in which restoration and protection efforts are addressed in an integrated way from the headwaters to the coast. They pushed for the set-up of a river basin council with representatives from government, businesses, civil society and indigenous people. This council has since become one of most active councils in the country and has successfully lobbied for a number of payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes in local government units in the river basin, where businesses pay a voluntary contribution to the protection and restoration of the environment.

To ensure that restoration efforts ultimately have the intended effect, the group mapped critical areas in the river basin and lobbied for a river basin-wide institutionalization of payment for ecosystem services, to complement the existing voluntary schemes and to secure resources for ongoing conservation and restoration efforts. IUCN NL partner organisation Kitanglad Integrated NGOs sees to it that there is sufficient recognition for the protection efforts by indigenous people in the headwaters.


This multi-stakeholder effort to achieve a formal river basin-wide payment for ecosystem services paid off: in September 2019, the Cagayan de Oro City Council approved an ordinance that will fund efforts in protecting and rehabilitating the environment. The city council now allocates 10 million pesos annually from its tax income to maintain rehabilitation efforts and support other activities to maintain critical ecosystems in the Cagayan de Oro River Basis. This way all citizens pay indirectly for the restoration and protection efforts by different stakeholders in the areas upstream.

The ordinance enables the creation of an environmental rehabilitation and conservation network, in which both government and non-government organizations, including indigenous people’s organizations, join forces in carrying out conservation and protection in the watersheds and prevent further degradation. The City council is using the high risk maps produced by partners to identify pressing restoration needs and to allocate budget to address those needs. The river basin council is now reaching out to different stakeholders to further develop the implementation scheme. 

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