APC youth reflect on biodiversity, ecosystems, and the interconnectedness of all life

For the youth in Upper Pulangi, forest regeneration is about nurturing a community of diverse tree species and not just about planting trees. This also applies in organic farming where the the diversity of crops is managed through culture-based practices. This is what agroecology means for the Pulangiyēn culture where the youth train in organic farming and forest and water management for the community.

The skills learned in these trainings nurture attitudes and actions in life, starting with acknowledging the gaup (ancestral domain), regenerating forest and plant communities, improving water infiltration and distribution, and planting traditional crops. They remain producers of the land and do not accept loans from commercial traders.

With these local skills and actions, the youth are then called to reflect on their traditional knowledge system and participate globally by learning about the climate crisis and biodiversity threat, the COP process, and sharing their stories and communicating their hopes for an ecologically responsible and just world.

Understanding the food chain and the relationships

Last year, the youth put together an image of how they see themselves as the guardians of the gaup (ancestral domain) and its ecological services. The leaves represent 150 forest species, and the trunk represents collaboration and solidarity with other youth also seeking for change. The roots represent culture and community where the youth draw their strength and hopes from to continue caring for the forest, land, water, and all the life it sustains.

This year, the youth discussed and asked more questions about biodiversity, ecosystems, and food chains. They studied the relationships in the forest and farm and the need for shade, sun, and water that is different for each plant.

Staff member Vincent Yan Rhu Yacapin or Kuya Yanyan facilitates discussions on food chains in the APC-FFLM organic farm.

There is also the natural food chain that includes the producers (plants and crops), consumers (animals and insects), and decomposers (detritus feeders, bacteria, and fungi) that break down organic matter and keep the nutrient cycle moving through the soil and back to the producers.

These are the relationships that naturally maintain the balance in the organic farm ecosystem. Corporate agricultural practices such as the planting of high-yielding variety (HYV) corn, a monoculture crop, and the application of pesticides and herbicides disrupt the natural interrelations and destroy the health of the soil. This leads to imbalances in the ecosystem that affect the health and food security in the community.

Understanding the biome

Bio means life and this includes all living organisms, from bacteria to the largest of mammals. Biodiversity is about the uniqueness and variety of species that is often identified within a certain ecosystem and focuses on how they live together in a unique way with a specific weather and water cycle.

Biome, meaning life as a large group or mass, usually refers to a major ecological type, like a tropical rainforest or ocean system maintained under the climatic conditions of such a region. With the changing climate, the seasonal weather shifts impact on the broader ecosystem and biodiversity.

The term biome emphasizes how the climate is part of the greater ecosystem. At a large scale, the climate of the Pacific Ocean as an ecosystem is now changing. The change is so great it determines or greatly impacts the viability and vulnerability of the biodiversity of ecosystems across the Asian land mass. In this way, Oceania-Asia form one giant biome.

Biodiversity collection in the herbarium

For the indigenous youth gathered, biodiversity is clearly illustrated in their herbarium where the Forest and Water Management Team collects and dries specimens of all the pillar species that provide structure to the forest. There are also filler species that form levels within the forest and pioneer species that grow in grasslands if they survive the cogon (Imperata cylindrica) burning. They can compare the leaves, buds, and sometimes the fruits of these trees. Over 200 specimens are already collected.

These different species and their interrelations with one another form various types of forests with the climate in the gaup. The mossy forest at high altitude is a different ecosystem to the pre-montane forest. The farm is another ecosystem with human interaction that needs balance. The youth activities in the organic farm maintain this balance to ensure the health of the land and the community.

Youth activities in the organic farm contribute to maintaining the ecosystem balance that ensures the health of the land and the community as well.

To illustrate the ecosystem, the youth took part in an interactive activity where they named the different elements in the organic farm that they see and reflected on how each of these identified elements play an integral role in the organic farm ecosystem for a bountiful harvest. They named the different crops they grow (the producers) and the different consumers such as the pests and other insects that are the pollinators, the snakes, bats, and birds. Of course, the biggest consumer is the kitchen!

Students from Grades 1 to 6 proudly show their drawings of different bird species they know in Bendum.

Parallel to this discussion, children from Grades 1 to 6 drew various bird species that they see in Bendum, the upland village where APC is situated. The uniqueness of the birds as the children drew them reflects the children’s knowledge of the wildlife and the diverse biodiversity in the community.

The discussion on food chains deepened the youth’s understanding of the importance of relationships within an ecosystem. The youth were shown several maps on the forest land use and the different land use transects in Bendum. Each of these transects has a natural food chain that their elders know.

During the 1997 drought, the elders of the community knew where and how to find forest foods within the lubas kagulangan or logged over forest. In the traditional uma or farm patch, there can be 30 or more plant species that a family would harvest throughout the year to secure their food supply.

These are some stories that highlight the richness of the cultural knowledge of Indigenous Peoples. These traditional practices are what the youth need to know and sustain.

Thoughts from the youth:

“Learning about ecosystems and food chains helps me understand how interconnected the different species are in the ecosystem. If one element is affected, the others become affected, including us, like when we discussed what happens if chemicals are sprayed in the farm. Biodiversity is life, and we need to maintain the balance and be able to protect this. This is our way of acting locally to be able to speak globally.”

“Biodiversity is life, which is also what we find in the forest. There is life in the trees, in the animals, which we depend on. We need to care for our surroundings as our life depends on our natural environment.

The youth continue to uphold their roles as guardians of ecological services through education and skills development. In high school there are vocational trainings in organic farming, forest and water regeneration and nursery management, and technical courses on bamboo fabrication masonry, and carpentry.

Introduction to the global efforts to stop biodiversity loss in COP 15

From 7 to 19 December, government parties will once more convene for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) in Montreal, Canada to set new goals over the next decade to end biodiversity loss through the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Biodiversity loss is proceeding at an unprecedented rate with a 69% decline of wildlife populations from 1970 to 2018, as reported in the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2022. During this period, one million plants and animals are threatened with extinction, and one to 2.5% of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish are already extinct. The report also identified land and sea use, overexploitation of plants and animals, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species as the major driving forces of biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity care is an indispensable form of climate action especially in indigenous contexts. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Indigenous Peoples occupy up to 22% of the global land area which is home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Indigenous communities have a vital role in caring for biodiversity and ecosystems through their cultural values, practices, and spiritual relationships with the land and territories. For them, the ancestral domain is not commodity but a gift from their Creator which they then inherit from their ancestors.

It is important for indigenous youth to learn about climate change in the larger biome, biodiversity, and ecosystems, especially in the local context, to understand the local actions needed and connecting and relating with the global.

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