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Jane Havemann

With Layding (my research assistant), overlooking Loboc river and nipa swamps

Jane Havemann

Interviewing in Loboc beside a traditional house with bamboo walls (and nipa roof).

Jane Havemann

In the nipa swamps

Jane Havemann

University of Waikato

Jane will soon complete an MPhil in the International Global Change Institute at the University of Waikato. Her Asia 2000-NZASIA Research Award helped fund eight weeks in the Philippines (July-August 2002) to collect data for her research into nipa palm-growing communities in the Loboc estuary

Fieldwork in Loboc, Bohol (the Philippines): Studying Community resource Management of the Nipa Palm

For eight weeks I became the ninth member of a family in the municipality of Loboc, Bohol (Philippines), approximately 26km from the provincial capital Tagbilaran. I took part in much of the daily life of the Lobocanos. I ate the same food as the family, and socialised with them. I frequently chatted with my host-father, as he spoke English well, and with my two host sisters who are close to my own age and always invited me to participate in whatever they were doing. One of them was also my research assistant. Their own social networks meant that many people were aware of my presence in the community and I was widely accepted. People were interested in why I was there, and I was often asked why I was alone, what New Zealand was like, and what my marital status was!

Being immersed in a family situation also enabled me to learn some of the local dialect, particularly frequently used phrases or words. This was very important, because my host-mother did not speak English. We were forced, therefore, to communicate in what little we knew of each other’s languages. On many occasions I gave great amusement to the family with my failed attempts at correct pronunciation!

I was fortunate to arrive in the Philippines just as my supervisor, Peter Urich, was also making a visit. Peter not only speaks the local dialect (Visayan), but also has numerous contacts made over sixteen years through frequent trips to the Philippines.

For the first few days I essentially "tagged along" with Peter to his meetings with NGO, academic, and government staff in Cebu, Tagbilaran, and Bilar. This was very useful not only in terms of meeting people whom I could later come back to see, but also for familiarising myself with the new places and people I was encountering.

Whilst living in Bohol I conducted over thirty interviews with nipa growers and owners in Loboc and the adjacent municipality of Loay. I asked questions about issues such as land ownership, nipa management and decision-making, about environmental sustainability, how the nipa had changed through time, the future that nipa growers envisaged for the nipa swamps, and how pressures to convert nipa land to other land uses were being dealt with.

I conducted additional interviews with members of a community in Loay whose members had used nipa as a secondary source of livelihood in the past, until their nipa lands had been converted to a fishpond by a local businessman. I asked them questions about how this had occurred and what resistance there had been. I also talked with members of a community in an area that had been declared a Protected Area to see how the declaration had affected them and their management of nipa.

I met and spoke with a wide range of people. They included barangay (village) captains, local entrepreneurs concerned about nipa conservation and livelihood, the Loboc and Loay mayors and members of their planning and agricultural staff. I met with NGO staff at PROCESS (Participatory Research, Organization of Communities and Education towards Struggle for Self-Reliance), with people from BANGON (Bohol Alliance of Non-Governmental Organisations) and SWCF (Soil and Water Conservation Foundation), and with staff at the Central Visayas State College of Agriculture, Forestry and Technology (CVSCAFT). I had a number of meetings with staff at DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) in Tagbilaran and at the regional office in Cebu. Staff at PPDO (Provincial Planning and Development Office), BEMO (Bohol Environment Management Organisation), and BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) were also very helpful. In addition, my research assistant and I spent countless hours at the Bohol Chronicle office in Tagbilaran searching through newspapers from 1985 to the present, looking for any relevant reported material.

Towards the end of my stay in the Philippines I conducted two focus group discussions with nipa owner/growers; one meeting in Loay and one in Loboc. These were facilitated in the vernacular by Marin Labonite from Research, Development and Extension, and Tom Reyes, the community forester, both at CVSCAFT. During the focus group discussions community members conducted resource mapping of nipa to show where nipa was and who it belonged to. Other issues that were discussed included nipa management, the ecological role of nipa, problems faced by nipa owners-growers, the history of ownership and future plans for nipa.

I met and spoke with a wide range of people. They included barangay (village) captains, local entrepreneurs concerned about nipa conservation and livelihood, the Loboc and Loay mayors and members of their planning and agricultural staff. I met with NGO staff at PROCESS (Participatory Research, Organization of Communities and Education towards Struggle for Self-Reliance), with people from BANGON (Bohol Alliance of Non-Governmental Organisations) and SWCF (Soil and Water Conservation Foundation), and with staff at the Central Visayas State College of Agriculture, Forestry and Technology (CVSCAFT). I had a number of meetings with staff at DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) in Tagbilaran and at the regional office in Cebu. Staff at PPDO (Provincial Planning and Development Office), BEMO (Bohol Environment Management Organisation), and BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) were also very helpful. In addition, my research assistant and I spent countless hours at the Bohol Chronicle office in Tagbilaran searching through newspapers from 1985 to the present, looking for any relevant reported material. Towards the end of my stay in the Philippines I conducted two focus group discussions with nipa owner/growers; one meeting in Loay and one in Loboc. These were facilitated in the vernacular by Marin Labonite from Research, Development and Extension, and Tom Reyes, the community forester, both at CVSCAFT. During the focus group discussions community members conducted resource mapping of nipa to show where nipa was and who it belonged to. Other issues that were discussed included nipa management, the ecological role of nipa, problems faced by nipa owners-growers, the history of ownership and future plans for nipa.

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have experienced the hospitality and generosity not only of my host family, but of the nipa owners and growers in Loboc and Loay. No one ever refused to be interviewed, and on many occasions I turned up on a cold-call to arrange an interview time and was invited to conduct the interview then and there. People were as grateful to me for being interested in their stories as I was grateful to them for sharing those stories.

There were, inevitably, some difficulties and frustrations. I had preconceived ideas about what I would find in Loboc. Those preconceptions, of course, shaped the research questions I had prepared before leaving New Zealand. When I got into the field and started talking to people, I discovered that the situation was quite different from what I had envisaged. For example, although the government owns the nipa land, it is not harvested or managed communally. Many cultivators work within relatively well defined boundaries in the nipa swamps, and their land has been inherited from countless generations of ancestors. Therefore, my original questions that related to common property were not relevant.

Another difficulty was lack of background information on Loboc and Loay’s natural environment, particularly in relation to the nipa. Neither the municipality nor DENR in Tagbilaran could tell me where the protected area was. Although the Loboc MPDC possessed a land-use map that included nipa, it was in fact inaccurate and did not include all the nipa that was actually present. Loay municipality has not yet finished producing their land-use map, but I am told that nipa will not feature on it. Unfortunately, the lack of resources available to the government departments hinders their ability to collect and disseminate environmental information.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems I faced was the language barrier. I had a bilingual research assistant. But she has not had training in an environmental field, and so some of the concepts I wanted to discuss (the term "ecosystem", for example) were unfamiliar to her, making it difficult to convey my meanings to interviewees. At times my research assistant also struggled to relay information to me in English. It would have been great to have had some language training, but the eight-weeks I spent in Loboc did not really allow me enough time to learn much Visayan, other than a few words or phrases. Although many people do speak a certain amount of English, I certainly needed my research assistant in order to communicate. As language helps to construct meaning, and I was unable to participate in Visayan, I do wonder how much information I have missed in the process of translation.

Time constraint was another difficulty. As I found out more about the big picture of nipa management in Loboc and Loay (as well as elsewhere in Bohol), I realised that I had more questions that I wanted to ask, more issues to follow-up, and more people that I would have benefited from talking to. Unfortunately, time was finite! I will have to wait until next time to pursue the unanswered questions.

My fieldwork has been crucial to my overall postgraduate program. Interviews with local people, government department staff and NGOs would not have been possible without an opportunity to visit the Philippines. Similarly in order to get a ‘feel’ for the place (where and how people live) it was imperative that I go there and live amongst the community.

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