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Empowering indigenous communities

At the crossroads of change: the Agta of the Sierra Madres

Posted on: 11.12.12 (Last edited) 11 December 2012

Leonard G. Reyes showcases through photos how Fauna & Flora International works with the Agta people to help conserve Philippine rainforest.

The Sierra Madre mountain range in Luzon is one of the few remaining intact areas of primary rainforest in the Philippines. It is a key biodiversity area and one of the pilot REDD+ sites for the whole country. The REDD+ Community Carbon Pools programme is working to conserve this impressive landscape through community resource management and empowerment.

The Sierra Madre Mountain Range in Luzon, Philippines. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI

The Sierra Madre mountain range in Luzon, Philippines. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

At the crossroads of change

The Agta-Dumagat-Remontado, collectively known as Agta, are hunter-gatherers who have inhabited the islands for at least 35,000 years. Today, around 9,000 Agta live along the coasts and in the tropical rainforest of the Sierra Madre mountain range in north-eastern Luzon.

An Agta uses a blowdart at an inter-tribal contest promoting forest survival skills. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI

An Agta uses a blowdart at an inter-tribal contest promoting forest survival skills. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

The Agta are a nomadic people who have depended on both the sea and the forest for survival for thousands of years.

From sea to forest: Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

From sea to forest: Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Traditional skills such as fire making are in danger of disappearing as Agta communities become more dependent on the economic system of the lowlanders.

An adult Agta demonstrates to two youngsters how to make fire using only bamboo. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

An adult Agta demonstrates to two youngsters how to make fire using only bamboo. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Agta culture is being continually ravaged by the forces of change. Traditionally dyed clothing made from wood bark is now only worn on special occasions.

Agta children don traditional costumes at a tribal festival. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Agta children don traditional costumes at a tribal festival. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Empowering indigenous communities

Charcoal production has become one of the drivers of deforestation in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Deforestation threatens the livelihood of the Agta.

An upland farmer cooking charcoal inside the forest. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

An upland farmer cooking charcoal inside the forest. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

The empowerment of indigenous communities through meaningful participation in resource management is a key strategy used by Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) Philippine Programme.


This clip is from ‘Keeper of the Forest: The Agta of the Sierra Madre Mountains’. For the full video please visit here.

The forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains provide important non-timber forest products such as wild rattan and nipa palm which the Agta use to produce crafts for household use and to supplement income.

A woman weaves a basket from palm fronds collected from the forest. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

A woman weaves a basket from palm fronds collected from the forest. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Tatay (Father) Erning, one of the village elders, believes the Agta are in the best position to look after the forest as they have a deep respect for it and all the creatures seen and unseen that reside within it.

Tatay Erning, at 87 years old, is one of the oldest Agta in the village. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Tatay Erning, at 87 years old, is one of the oldest Agta in the village. Credit: Leonard Reyes/FFI.

Written by
Leonard Reyes

Other posts by Leonard Reyes

Written by

Leonard Reyes
Other posts by Leonard Reyes
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