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Fishing for Families: Evidence From the Philippines on Integrating Population and Environment in Development Programs

Leona D'Agnes speaks about the Integrated Population and Coastal Resource Management (IPOPCORM) initiative, which was implemented in biodiversity hotspots in the Philippines.

Date & Time

May. 16, 2008
12:00pm – 2:00pm ET


One of 17 megadiverse countries in the world and the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, the Philippines "is also one of the most imperiled environments in the world," said Leona D'Agnes at "Fishing for Families: Evidence From the Philippines on Integrating Population and Environment in Development Programs," a May 16, 2008, event hosted by the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP). D'Agnes, the technical advisor to PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc. (PFPI), helped design the Integrated Population and Coastal Resource Management (IPOPCORM) initiative, which PFPI implemented in biodiversity hotspots in the Philippines.

The Vital Role of Marine Ecosystems

Fisheries are critical to the Philippines, not only for their environmental value, but also for their role in the livelihoods of many Philippine communities. D'Agnes noted that more than 80 percent of dietary protein in coastal communities comes from fish. Additionally, the fishing industry contributes US$1.3 billion annually to the Philippine economy. But despite the industry's large footprint, fishermen remain "the poorest of the poor in the Philippines," she said.

In spite of improved technology and efficiency in the fishing industry, with a population close to 90 million strong (compared to 60 million in 1990), the Philippines has "pretty much now outgrown their fisheries," said D'Agnes. In addition to pressures exacted by the country's high population growth rate (just over 2 percent), extensive migration to coastal communities has led to higher-than-average population densities. As fish stocks decline, making it more difficult to catch fish through traditional methods, destructive fishing practices, such as the use of dynamite or cyanide, have become increasingly common, further decimating fish populations and severely damaging the Philippines' coral reefs.

Dwindling fish populations are further diminished by a lack of enforcement of municipal fishing areas, which are supposed to be reserved for small-scale fishers. These areas, extending 15 kilometers from the coastline, are frequently violated by large-scale fishing outfits. In addition, foreign demand for live fish for food and for the aquarium trade is high and increasing; the United States is the world's largest purchaser of ornamental fish from the Philippines.

An Integrated Approach Suits Integrated Lives

To address these pressures on the marine ecosystems in the Philippines, IPOPCORM uses an integrated approach that has met with strong support in the communities. D'Agnes attributed this enthusiasm to the fact that the approach is "more like how they lead their lives. They don't lead their lives in sectoral ways—they lead integrated lives."

IPOPCORM's basic premise is that "improved human and ecosystem health will lead to greater food security." The program targeted several problems that were contributing to food insecurity, including lack of access to family planning in biodiversity hotspots, lack of alternative livelihoods, weak enforcement of existing fishing regulations, and a longstanding preference for large families.

Community Buy-In Is Key

The IPOPCORM team found that community buy-in was essential to its success from the very beginning, and thus focused on "things the community can do itself to restore a fishery that's collapsing," said D'Agnes. For example, the program asked shopkeepers to add family planning commodities to their existing inventory and serve as peer educators about family planning methods. A referral program allowed community members to distribute basic information while referring more complex questions and needs to health centers.

Education and outreach efforts were not confined to local shops; the IPOPCORM team also had community members create slogans for outreach materials. D'Agnes observed that the slogans the community members created not only enabled them to discuss and describe the benefits of the integrated approach themselves, but also persuaded young people to become involved in the program. "We think that our approach of encouraging young people to become the future stewards of the environment, but also to honor their own bodies and become stewards of their own sexuality…went over really well, and it resonated with young people," said D'Agnes. Because almost 40 percent of the population of the Philippines is under 15, the youth cohort will be integral to the survival of the Philippines' fisheries.

The conservation arm of IPOPCORM set up marine sanctuaries where fishers would agree not to fish for a certain period of time to allow fish stocks and coral to regenerate. Fish wardens, chosen by the community, were deputized by local governments, giving them the power to arrest sanctuary violators—and enhancing their personal investment in the program. Using community members as managers and monitors also increased the legitimacy of the sanctuaries. This community commitment is the lifeblood of IPOPCORM. "If they don't buy into it," D'Agnes said, "it's not going to work." Because of IPOPCORM's limited funding, communities wishing to take part were forced to partially fund the program from the beginning, which also helped contribute to the communities' support for the program.

Empirical Evidence Supports Integrated Approach

IPOPCORM's results are promising. D'Agnes and her team measured a broad range of indicators in locations where a multisectoral approach was used and those where a single-sector approach was used. Because the study sought to compare effectiveness of single-sector and multisectoral interventions, IPOPCORM was implemented in areas that had never participated in other development projects. The team had hoped to measure their results against a control site, but during the course of the IPOPCORM program, another NGO started a program on the control island.

Using the Demographic Research and Development Foundation, a group affiliated with the University of the Philippines, D'Agnes and her team found that combined interventions were more effective than single-sector ones. IPOPCORM generated the desired impact on all nine of the reproductive health and food security indicators, exceeding the impact of the single-sector interventions for five of nine indicators and performing equally as well for the remaining four indicators. A cost analysis revealed an additional benefit: At a total cost of $219,000 over seven years, the integrated program was less expensive than the combined cost of the separate interventions. For additional information on IPOPCORM, see "Fishing for Families: Reproductive Health and Coastal Management in the Philippines," a recent Focus brief by D'Agnes and Joan Castro. A complete analysis of IPOPCORM's results is forthcoming.

Initial Challenges May Lead to Long-Term Sustainability

IPOPCORM faced a number of hurdles while implementing its coastal resource management (CRM) and reproductive health components. Each community had to establish bylaws regulating the marine ecosystem sanctuaries, which meant that a significant amount of time—sometimes years—was spent persuading mayors and local officials that working with IPOPCORM would benefit their communities. In addition, the Philippines' powerful Catholic Church sometimes actively opposed IPOPCORM's family planning interventions. But, as D'Agnes found, some of the initially hesitant officials are now among the most ardent supporters of the program. IPOPCORM flew one reluctant leader to Thailand to speak with renowned family planning advocate Mechai Viravaidya. This official, D'Agnes proudly related, is now one of the most vocal proponents of IPOPCORM, and frequently urges recalcitrant officials to participate in the program.

While the scaling-up process is frequently a stumbling block for development programs, IPOPCORM has already been scaled up to more than 1,000 villages in the Philippines, and works with more than 33 distinct local governments. IPOPCORM is eager to scale up to the densely populated Danajon Bank eco-region, one of only three double-barrier reefs in the entire Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the process of incorporating CRM bylaws into individual communities, though time-consuming, may prove helpful in the long run because once the sanctuaries have been institutionalized, they become eligible for federal funding. The focus now, said D'Agnes, is on trying to "disseminate as much as we can the experience" of this project.

Drafted by Sonia Schmanski and edited by Rachel Weisshaar and Meaghan Parker.



Leona D'Agnes

Technical Adviser, PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc.
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Hosted By

Environmental Change and Security Program

The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more

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