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We believe that the struggle to save Palawan (as many other biodiversity hot spots in our country) has to do, not only, with saving trees and rare species. More importantly, it is about nourishing the Filipino cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, so powerfully represented in the living practices of our indigenous communities that, after resisting Spanish and American colonization, are still struggling against mining and agribusiness oligarchies.

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We want to make our government and mainstream society to realize that the last remaining biodiversity hot spots in our country completely overlap with our indigenous territories.  If these areas are still beautiful and green (as they are), this is exactly because us, the indigenous peoples, have maintained them in such pristine and sustainable state, over thousands of years.


We wish to enlighten and inspire all people to understand that forests are not just places being inhabited by rare species, but they are actually the 'cradle' of our indigenous cultures. Until this simple concept is understood, forest will continue to be regarded as the 'place of nature' separated from 'culture'. However there are still many challenges ahead of us and, the greatest amongst them is how to eradicate the long-standing prejudices and short-sighted views, which still depict us as ‘primitive’, ‘uncivilized’ and, overall, as people in need of ‘development’.


From our perspective, environmental plundering by mining and agribusiness firms is not only a crime against nature but also a crime against culture, a sort of genocide that annihilates the most profound roots of our Filipino's history and ultimately plunders the cultural heritage of the whole nation. The beauty and uniqueness of our indigenous cultures and the magnificence of our environment are two sides of the same coin, they are inextricably linked to one another; they are indivisible!


Our advocacy is centred on four major and interrelated components:  1) Ancestral Domains and ICCAs Recognition; 2) Safeguarding Indigenous Farming Systems; 3) Oil Palms and Agribusiness; 4) Mining and Extractive Industries.




One of the key strategies that CALG uses to counter land grabbing is to push for the formal recognition of indigenous peoples’ ancestral domains.  This is done by appealing to existing laws such as IPRA (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act) and to other instruments, such as the registration of ICCAs (Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas) with the ICCA Registry of the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Such registration can add value to the applying communities in a variety of ways, such as providing them a ‘Global Billboard’ announcing the traditional rules and policies that govern their ICCA. This, in turn, provides an early warning system to the communities in order to inform prospective investors and corporations of the existence and status of their ICCAs. We also hope that the passing, at the national level, of the so-called ICCA bill or House Bill No.115 will soon represent a better and more effective mechanism for our indigenous communities to ensure the protection of our land and resources.

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The release of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) by applicant indigenous communities is guaranteed by the implementation of the IPRA law which is anchored on the recognition and respect of basic rights, including rights to ancestral lands and domains; rights to self-governance; social justice and human rights; rights to protection and preservation of cultural traditions and institutions; and rights to basic services. However, the overall process leading to the official release of such titles is often delayed by cumbersome bureaucratic procedures with which indigenous communities have great difficulties to cope with. Such procedures also require substantial financial costs that local communities alone are unable to sustain.  


The IPRA law also recognizes that processes of development planning for indigenous communities should respect their unique cultures and be mindful of their marginalized situation. In the law, such a plan is called: ‘Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan’ (ADSDPP). 


Some of the steps needed to apply for CADT under the IPRA law and for ICCA recognition are similar.  For instance, resources inventories, as well as the analysis of traditional governance mechanisms and IKSP (Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices) are, in fact, the key documentary steps for both CADT and ICCA procedures.   Furthermore, ADSDPP also provides the framework and defines the process underlying the formulation of the so-called ICCA Community Conservation Plan. 




The ADSDPP serves as the basis for IP communities to assert their rights to realize their development aspirations. ADSDPP formulation is based on: 1) a community-driven participatory social, institutional, demographic, economic, cultural and biophysical survey of the ancestral domain, adopting the spirit and intent of the IPRA; 2) a sustainable mechanism for promoting social dialogue in relation to the establishment of a federation and accompanying barangay or village-level consultation mechanisms covering the areas of the proposed ancestral domains. 


CALG instruments and measures to assist communities in the formulation of their ADSDPPs include a combination of approaches and methodologies such as social cartography with geo-spatial maps, audio-visual documentation, field appraisals, questionnaires and open ended interviews.


This documentation, in addition to peoples’ own development and land/resources management plans, provides indigenous communities with an improved information-base on which to make critical decisions regarding key environmental and social issues, conserve memories of the past and assess challenges and opportunities related to the governance and management of their ancestral lands. In this respect, one of CALG key objectives is the integration of Indigenous Peoples’ Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP) into the local government development plans and budgetary processes.   In fact, we aim at harmonizing the conflicting provisions of both IPRA and Local Government Code (LGC), so to integrate the mandate of the local governments with the way in which indigenous people wish to utilize and manage their own land and natural resources.



Shifting cultivation (commonly known in Palawan as uma and, in Tagalog, as kaingin) is, for most indigenous peoples of the Philippines, a fundamental part of their culture and identity and is totally engraved in their cosmology and foundation myths. CALG is engaged in various activities aiming at safeguarding traditional upland indigenous farming practices, the diversity of cultivated plants, as well as the rituals associated with them.  We disagree with government’s policies to ban shifting cultivation as a whole, without drawing first a distinction between the sustainable traditional farming patters of indigenous peoples and those of Filipino landless migrants. We are also critical of the position, being embraced by government agencies as well as by some conservation organizations, which advocate for the transition from shifting indigenous fields (kaingin, uma, etc.) into more sedentary forms of agriculture.

© Copyright 2015 CALG

As of now, CALG has carried out various actions to support our indigenous communities against top-down measures aiming at forbidding their farming practices and/or at legally persecuting single individuals for being engaged in shifting cultivation.  For instance, in 2014 we have assisted Batak communities to prepare a resolution requesting local authorities to lift the ban against shifting cultivation (create link here to ‘ uma resolution English’ and ‘uma resolution Tagalog’).  We have also taken actions in relation to various forms of violations committed against the Pala’wan indigenous people of Brooke’s Point. In 2015, some of them had been arrested for having allegedly destroyed watersheds and primary forest through their slash-and-burn practices.  At that time, CALG staff carried out a recognizance of kaingin fields in the upland of Amas and collected GPS and photographic evidences, as well as testimonies of the victims of arrest. All such evidences revealed that no watershed forest was ever cleared by members of the local communities and no virgin forest was cut by them for kaingin (not even secondary forest in the large majority of cases).  What the people being apprehended did, was to clear areas between 3/4 years fallow cycles with most trees having a diameter of about 20 cm only.  


At that time, CALG questioned the legality of such apprehensions, since both arrest and detention of indigenous people took place without a warrant and this is in violation of International and Philippine laws.  Our ‘Amas Geotagged Report’ highlights some of these concerns.


As of now, we continue to engage foresters and concerned government agencies on transparent debates about the cultural and ecological functions of traditional shifting cultivation.  Recently, with the help of an artist (Alexandra Huchet ), a short animation-video has been produced on how indigenous people carry out their sustainable shifting cultivation practices :









Why we do support traditional shifting cultivation ‘uma/kaingin’: some facts and figures ?

  • To make uma, our indigenous communities avail of forest areas that have been rotationally used by them over long periods of time. We plant our uma with upland rice and other root crops only for one year and then move to another area for the successive years. This is because we are well aware that forest soil is too thin and cannot be over-exploited; otherwise fertility will decrease to such an extent to make the soil infertile. In this is way, we give to land a regeneration period of at least 7/8 up to 25 years for vegetation to re-grow and for the soil to regain its own nutrients.

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© Copyright 2015 CALG
  • Our indigenous communities have a deep knowledge of the areas which are suitable for shifting cultivation, as well of fallow-land typologies, and we rely on specific ‘tree indicators’ to determine what kind of soils are found in particular areas and if such soil are suited for rice and other crops.


  • Our indigenous communities use fire to burn the vegetation. The use of fire for clearing, if matched by long fallow periods, contributes to the creation of environments that are biodiversity rich, as much as virgin forest. This is because during fallow periods the vegetation is subject to the impact of sunrays in a way that virgin forest is not (the thick canopy, in fact, does not allow the sun to filter through).  Sunlight enhances the growth of numerous plant species, which provide food to various birds and other animals, which could not survive solely on virgin forest. This is why, those scientists who have studies our faming practices, often use the definition ‘mosaic of vegetation’ to refer specifically to the types of plants-associations that develop during fallow periods and to forests under different stages of growth, which create an environment that is more heterogeneous if compared to that of virgin forest.  According to such scientists, when you have patches of virgin forest alternating with patches of secondary forest and vegetation under different fallow periods you also have a richer biodiversity. Without fire there would be no ashes and the latter are essential for the fertilization of our soils and to boast the growth of our plants.  Without fire it would be impossible for us to clean our fields from the huge amount of dead brunches and tree trunks that are the result of the clearing process.  It is also important to emphasize that we know how apply fire control measures, and thus we always make sure that fire from our burning fields will not escape into bordering forests.Our people only use dibble stick and 'tagad' (stick with a pointed metal blade) to plant rice. Generally, outsiders perceive the dibble-stick as a ‘primitive’ and ‘inadequate’ instrument while, in reality, this is a very effective farming tool.  The topsoil in our forests is very thin and, If we would use digging spades and hoes to till the land, this would place the humus upside-down.  As a result, the natural soil structure would be altered.

        So why is shifting cultivation so important to us?


  • It allows our communities to maintain the richness of our traditional crops and to safeguard the genetic diversity of cultivated species.Through our farming practices our tribal communities have contributed to save over 70 local varieties of upland rice! The genetic diversity of our domesticated plants represents a ‘treasure’ not only for us but also for the Philippines as a whole. Indeed, upland rice and traditional crops are part and parcel of our cultural heritage.

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  • Our foundation myths and our most sacred rituals are centred on rice.  If we are forbidden to plant rice, this means that we cannot practice and transmit important aspects of our culture and identity to the next generations.


  • If we are not allowed to plant our crops, we will be then forced to increase pressure on the collection of commercially valuable NTFPs(rattan, almaciga, honey) in order to compensate for the loss of our agricultural produce.  This means that we will have to collect and sell more NTFPs to purchase rice (our main source of carbohydrates).  Ultimately, this may result in the rapid depletion of our non-timber forest resources.


Why are government prohibitions on shifting cultivation affecting us so badly?

Government prohibitions alter the sustainability of our farming systems. Why? Because the forest guards (bantay gubat) explicitly ask us to cut only small trees for our uma/kaingin and to cultivate our fields continuously, over the years. These suggestions are based on a very poor knowledge of forest ecology. Why is this so?  Because forest guards do not seem to realize that when you cut small trees, you are actually interfering with the natural regeneration of the soil.  When only small trees are found on a piece of fallow land this entails that such a land has not yet regained its soil nutrients.  Therefore, if these fragile soils are cleared, over and over again, they will ultimately become infertile. It means that only cogun (imperata cylindrica) would thrive in these areas and the forest will never grow back.

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Often, Officials of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) try to convince us that it would be better to 'reforest' our uma/kaingin with perennial tree species.  For us this is not a good idea.  Why? Because once our upland fields are planted with perennial trees, we can no longer use them rotationally for our farming activities. Is then perennial trees-planting on our uma leading to more forest depletion? Yes, because if we have fewer fields available for rotation, we will be forced to give a shorter fallow (regeneration) period to our land (let's say 3 years rather than 15).  So what will happen then?  Soils that have not completed their fallow period will degrade very easily, when re-utilized again for cultivation.  Degraded soils will become useless, both for agriculture and for forest re-growth.  So what has this to do with indigenous peoples’ farming practices?  If we do not have a sufficient number of areas for rotating our fields, then we will be forced to open new areas (also virgin forest), rather then clearing those plots of land that have regenerated through long fallow periods. Ultimately, this may result in more destruction of primary forest.

What are the legal implications of forbidding indigenous farming practices?

The imposition of anti-shifting cultivation measures such as the Puerto Princesa “Controlled Burning Ordinance”, as well of the so called “Clear Air Act” flagrantly violates the major tenets of the 'Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997' (Republic Act no. 8371) which recognizes, protects and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities.   This powerful law should not be undermined by the implementation of secondary laws (e.g. municipal ordinances, etc.)

Overall, our indigenous farming system must be understood as an integral part of a larger livelihood complex where farming is being integrated with hunting-gathering and collection of non-timber forest products.   If a single part of this system is affected, this creates an imbalance within the system as a whole, with direct repercussions on our environment and culture.  This is why the definition ‘integral swidden’ or ‘integral kaingin’ is specifically used to indicate that uma/kaingin is part and parcel of a much wider livelihood complex, which is thoroughly imbued with indigenous cosmology and worldviews.

Useful References on Shifting Cultivation



See relevant extracts and articles from published books  


Cadeliña, R.V. 1985.  In Time of Want and Plenty: the Batak Experience, Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Philippines.

Blanchetti-Revelli, L. 1996.  Ecology, Rice and Debt among the Molbog.  In J.F. Eder and J.O. Fernandez (eds.) “Palawan at the Crossroad: Development and the Environment on a Philippine Frontier”, Ateneo University Press.


Macdonald, C.J.H. 2007. Uncultural Behaviour: An Anthropological Investigation of Suicide in the Southern Philippines. Honolulu: University of Hawa’I Press.


Novellino, D. 2014.   Rice-related knowledge, farming strategies and the transformation of swiddens amongst the Batak of Palawan Island (the Philippines). In M. Cairns (ed.) Growing Forest of Voices. RFF Press: USA.

Peralta J.T. 1983.  The Tau’t Batu: a pattern of transhumance. In: Peralta J.T. (ed.) Tau’t Batu Studies, National Museum and the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN), Manila.



Other publications and web articles 


Shifting Cultivation: Towards Sustainability and Resource Conservation in Asia, 2001. IFAD, IDRC, CIIFAD, IGRAF, IIRR : Shifting Cultivation: Myths and Realities - Shifting Cultivators: Are they to blame for deforestation? - The Basics of Shifting Cultivation Systems.


Shifting Cultivation, Livelihood and Food Security.  New and Old Challenges for Indigenous Peoples in Asia, 2015  (C. Erni ed.) FAO, IWGIA and Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. Bangkok, Thailand. 


Shifting Cultivation Policies. Balancing Environmental and Social Sustainability, 2017, (M. Cairns Ed.), CABI International, USA.

The shifting ground of swidden agriculture on Palawan Island, the Philippines Dressler, W. & J. Pulhin 2009. The Shifting ground of swidden agriculture on Palawan Island, the Philippines, Agriculture and Human Values 27(4): 445-459

Dressler, W. (2014). Swidden Governmentality on Palawan Island, The Philippines. In Voices from the Forest. (M. Cairns, ed.), M. Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Dressler, W. (2005) Disentangling Tagbanua Lifeways, Swidden and Conservation on Palawan Island. Human Ecology Review Vol. 12(1): 21-29


Dressler, W., Wilson, D., Cramb, R., et al., (2015). Examining the Impact of Long-fallow Swidden Systems upon Livelihood and Ecosystem Services Compared with Alternative Land Uses in the Uplands of Southeast Asia. Journal of Development Effectiveness. Vol. 7(2): 210-229


Dressler, W. at all. 2015. Stop prejudice against indigenous peoples’ ‘kaingin’. Philippine Daily Inquirer

Montefrio, M., and Dressler, W. (2016) The Green Economy and Constructions of the 'Idle' and 'Unproductive' Uplands in the Philippines. World Development. Vol. 79: 114-126

See letters from academicians and NGOs in support of CALG campaign to safeguard  traditional kaingin


The ban on shifting cultivation and the expansion of plantations and mining in Palawan

Grain - Letter to Palawan Governor

ICCA Consortium letter on indigenous kaingin in Palawan

From Academicians

Charles J-H Macdonald letter

Dr. Revel letter

N. Theriault letter

James F. Eder letter


Massive conversion of land into oil palm plantations is taking place in Palawan and Mindanao with adverse consequences on the livelihood of our indigenous communities and our environment. Today, the magnitude of the problem is such, and the forces behind it so powerful, that local communities are encountering serious difficulties in contrasting corporations that are popping up just like mushrooms. CALG is rushing off its feet to keep up with this enormous pressure and to respond to the call for help of our indigenous brothers and farmers.


Oil palm plantations are a totally unsustainable and socially de-stabilizing ‘model’ of development that needs be halted as soon as possible. This is why on July 28, 2016 we have submitted to the national government a petition signed by more than 4,200 Palawan farmers and indigenous people calling for a moratorium on oil palm expansion.  Sadly, as of now, the government has paid little attention to the petition and to the outcry of the victims of oil palm development. 

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The new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has identified oil palm development as the key industry that, according to him, will boost the country’s economy. He has indicated both Palawan and Mindanao as the new frontiers for oil palm expansion. In our opinion, by inviting Malaysian oil palm investors in Palawan, our President is doing exactly the opposite of what he had promised at the beginning of his mandate: ‘never to harm the country’s environment and the local communities’.


We are asking the government to ensure a strict environmental scrutiny of all existing oil palm plantations rather than ‘no-red tapes’, as the Philippine Palm Oil Development Council Inc. (PPDCI) is requesting.  In our opinion, what the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should do is to place all environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) of existing oil palm companies to strict auditing and reviewing.  Oil palm companies that have illegally cleared land and forest should be stopped immediately. In short, DENR should not hesitate to shut down all oil palm operations and other forms of agribusiness that are involved in land grabbing and that have been found to have violated environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, as well as indigenous peoples’ right, as stated in the IPRA law (Republic Act  8371). For instance, this is the case of Agumil in Sarong (Municipality of Bataraza) – download report.

It is important to note that in spite of government agencies’ reports about the illegal encroachment of oil palm companies on indigenous people’s and timberland, no serious actions have been taken at the higher institutional level against such companies. See CENRO reports: download report 1 - report 2 and NCIP letter.

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We believe that large-scale agribusinesses and oil palm development will only ‘fatten’ the foreign market and bring richness to foreign investors, local tycoons and to the same oligarchies that Pres. Duterte had promised to dismantle. It must be made clear: palm oil is mainly produced as a commodity for foreign export and not for local consumption. And even if it was produced for the needs of our own people, we would still prefer our coconut oil that is much more tastier and healthier and does not contain the dangerous contaminants and cancerous substances found in palm oil. A recent study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already assessed risks of palm oil on public health.


It is enough to look at the clear-cutting of precious lowland forest here in Palawan by Agumil Philippine Inc., San Andres and CAVDEAL to get a clear idea of what oil palm industry can do and is doing to our beloved land and to the hundreds of indigenous and rural communities that have cared for it, over generations (see reports: 1 & 2).

According to the Government, oil palm development can play a significant role in poverty eradication and it will bring more jobs in rural areas, as well as prosperity for the people. But, this is not the lesson we have learned from existing oil palm development here in Palawan. More importantly – it is not what rural and indigenous communities (their federations and local NGOs) from neighbouring Sabah, Sarawak, Kalimantan, have told us. Indeed, forest conversion of Borneo’s forest for industrial oil palm plantations, has been the subject of many studies and scholarly articles.


It is well known that, compared to other cash crops oil palms plantations requires little man-labour. In the year 2009, in the Municipality of Española (Barangay Iraray II), only 25 community members were employed (part-time) in a 150 ha oil palm plantation site. This gives an employment estimate that is six fold lower compared to that proposed by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) (e.g. one worker per hectare).

     © Copyright 2017 CALG

From a plane or a helicopter, oil palms look ‘green’, but they are not ‘green’ at all! Based on empirical records, for a ton of oil processed, about 2.5 tons of effluents are discharged. Biodiversity does not thrive in these ‘green deserts’ rather it is totally eradicated when soils and pre-existing vegetation are bulldozed to give space to one single species