Women and indigenous peoples living in the uplands and watersheds play a crucial role in preserving the environment, especially water resources. However, social and economic challenges prevent them from fully engaging in water resources management. Women in rural, upland, and watershed communities face the triple burden of unpaid care work, domestic chores, and lack of access to formal employment or income-generating activities. Similarly, indigenous peoples face economic hurdles that sometimes lead them to engage in unsustainable activities, posing risks to the watershed ecosystem. The USAID Safe Water Project has been working to address these social and economic challenges.
USAID Safe Water observes that providing women with financial security through income-generating activities and community savings encourages them to care for the watersheds where they live and rely for their livelihood. Safe Water’s deliberate engagement of women in sustainable livelihoods has spurred them to lead various efforts to protect and conserve watersheds and to use nature-based solutions to replenish water resources or prevent soil erosion and degradation.
The majority of Safe Water-assisted Environmental Development Savings and Investment Associations (EDSIAs) in Negros Occidental and Community Savings Associations (COMSCAs) in Palawan, for example, are led by women. EDSIAs have accumulated funds amounting to PhP 15.9 million (US$ 318,000) since 2021.
Mea Omaque, chairperson of Bago 2 EDSIA, highlighted the positive impact of community savings through EDSIA and their community green farm, which includes a hydroponic vegetable farm. She emphasized how these initiatives had improved her family's food security by providing access to a sufficient supply of affordable and healthy farm produce.
Empowering Indigenous Peoples
USAID Safe Water not only trains indigenous people farmers in good agricultural practices and new farming skills involving nature-based solutions, but also facilitates their access to stable markets.
In Palawan, vegetable and ube farmers are adopting organic fertilizer and integrated disease and pest management, which conserve water and reduce groundwater pollution. Safe Water is supporting the local government and stakeholders of Brooke’s Point to establish the municipality as a “highland vegetable capital of Palawan” through sustainable agriculture-based livelihood programs for the Indigenous Peoples and local community vegetable growers.
In Negros Occidental, farmers are utilizing swales and sloping agricultural land technology with infiltration canals for community green farms. These techniques promote water recharge and storage. On the other hand, Bukidnon Lumad farmers like Myrben Libiro of the Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development – Negros (MUAD-Negros) use hydroponic technology to grow organic vegetables such as tomatoes and spring onion.
In Sarangani, coffee farmers are adopting better practices like proper bore holing, coffee tree pruning, and bean sorting to improve the productivity and quality of beans that command better prices and consequently higher incomes. Tboli coffee farmers like Cedelia Mozo are inspiring other neighboring tribes and communities, including the youth, in sustainably producing and marketing coffee following lessons learned from USAID’s Farmers’ Climate-Resilient Field School.
By empowering women and indigenous peoples, USAID Safe Water is uplifting their lives as well as enabling them to be better stewards of the watersheds. (USAID SWP/ Kent Tangcalagan, Carla Grino)