Current Research

Working Title

Growing Fuel on Ancestral Domains: Dynamics of Decision Making in Sustainable Co-Management Regimes Involving Indigenous Communities in the Philippines

Steering Committee:
  • Dr. David Sonnenfeld, Professor and Chair, Dept. of Environmental Studies, SUNY-ESF (Specialization: Environmental Governance and Politics)
  • Dr. Valerie Luzadis, Associate Professor, SUNY-ESF (Specialization: Ecological Economics)
  • Dr. Peter Castro, Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Maxwell School at Syracuse University (Specialization: Economic Anthropology and Collaborative Management)

Candidacy Examiner:
  • Dr. Philip McMichael, Professor, Dept. of Development Sociology, Cornell University (Specialization: Agrofuels and Rural Development)

The Philippines has officially embarked in a nationwide biodiesel and bioethanol program by ratifying its landmark Biofuels Act in 2006. Although the legislation has been heralded as yet another pioneering achievement to advance environmental and rural development policies in the country, it has been severely criticized for undermining food security and biodiversity protection. While this legislation envisions to offset fossil fuels and curb greenhouse gas emissions, there are concerns that an increase in the demand for biofuel crops would result in the displacement of food croplands and forests. In an effort to assuage the potential impacts of biofuels production, government agencies and private companies have embarked on community-based collaborative arrangements with indigenous peoples to grow jatropha and sorghum in ancestral lands. A number of these indigenous communities have permitted such a development model, while many others remain resistant.

This interdisciplinary study explores the environmental, social, economic, and political dimensions of the biofuels program in the Philippines, particularly concerning indigenous communities in the upland regions. Moreover, the study endeavors to elucidate how indigenous communities make decisions with regards to community-based biofuel collaboratives and how their preferences are shaped by exogenous and endogenous factors. It is hoped that the outcome of this research endeavor will contribute to the greater understanding of the political ecology of biofuel programs and the sustainability of community-based biofuel collaboratives in the Southeast Asian region.

Current Activities:
I just recently completed my preliminary fieldwork in the Philippines in the summer of 2010. I was able to visit six indigenous communities currently engaged in Jatropha production and interviewed a total of 40 representatives of the government, private sector, civil society and the academe.

(Left: Group interview with Jatropha workers in Montalban; Center: Jatropha plantation visit with Pala'wan chieftain in Palawan; Right: 14-month Jatropha planted on sloping swidden plot in Montalban)