Some 500 upland farmer leaders from all over the country and an equal number of their partners from local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and national agencies will gather at the Fontana Convention Center in Pampanga on February 15-17 to showcase their community-based forest management (CBFM) gains and discuss the challenges they face as forest stewards, it was announced by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje.

The congress will be the biggest gathering of representatives of forest-based communities and forest-focused NGOs to be ever assembled.

According to Paje, many of the farmer participants are former “slash-and-burn farmers” or “kaingineros” whose cropping activities involve clearing and burning small patches of forest to be able to grow such cash crops as upland rice, corn, root crops, beans, and other vegetables.

“These “kaingineros” have since evolved into forest stewards and are now officers of people’s organizations (POs) working as Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) practitioners with the support of development NGOs, donor institutions, and DENR field offices,” Paje said.

The CBFM was adopted in 1995 through Executive Order 263 as the Philippines’ national strategy for the sustainable development of its forest lands. The strategy involves the engagement of forest-based families under a CBFM agreement with the DENR to develop, protect, and use portions of forest lands.

A total of 1.6 million hectares of forest lands have so far been placed under such agreements that are effective for 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.

With the theme “CBFM: Kaagapay ng NGP”, the congress will discuss how the CBFM as a strategy will be harnessed to contribute to the reforestation activities of the National Greening Program launched by President Aquino last year.

Among the highlights of the event is the showcasing of CBFM communities’ best practices in addressing forest destruction, as well as local problems of food security and wood supply.

The POs will also share insights on how their CBFM projects help the country address its thrusts on tourism, biodiversity conservation, livelihood generation, and climate change.