I discerned remnants of a spatial information system embedded in their traditional agricultural practices. It illuminated the design of a prototype GIS that facilitates learning about their problematic situation, and articulation of local perspectives in their present multi-actor watershed management. The old Ifugaos understood and utilized spatial information concepts because these were important in carrying out their basic activities, such as:
The same information remains important today in managing the same terrace ecosystem, but the breakdown of the traditional management system and its accompanying information system aggravate the present problematic situation.
The foregoing activities that utilized spatially located information encouraged my exploration of using GIS to support local level terrace monitoring with the vision of aggregating the information for the whole watershed to include the forests as well. This is because, in traditional Ifugao natural resource management, terrace management is intertwined with management of the whole catchment area.
I started with participatory image classification. I sought the help of the local farmers in interpreting a SPOT satellite image of the study area in order to gain an understanding of the various types of land cover information conveyed by the image. I first gave them an orientation on the meaning of the different colors on the image: red for forests, blue for the rivers, and light green for man-made structures like town centers, buildings, and roads. Then I draped it over the DEM to get a 3-D view and zoomed-in on a prominent feature in the image - the Banaue Hotel, which is the only big building in the area.
The farmers immediately saw the connection, and spontaneously identified other features in the vicinity of the hotel and all over the image. When I asked how they were able to do that, one of them remarked, "We see because we know!" They also recognized the big white spots as clouds because with Ifugao's high elevation, clouds are usually seen around the mountaintops. With such a wide area covered by one satellite image (60x60km), the local farmers were able to have a look at their place with respect to the whole region.
They helped in identifying sample pixels (picture elements or the smallest unit of an image), and the GIS software easily accomplished the classification task. The next thing I did was to devise a method to facilitate terrace monitoring by utilizing the sketch maps that contain landmarks and other features which are important for the local farmers. The Community-Based Community Organizers served as team leaders that monitored the status of the terraces in their respective areas.
They filled out their respective monitoring sheets by shading a problem area and indicating the kind of problem: erosion, an abandoned terrace, a damaged wall, no irrigation, etc. Time constraints did not allow for implementation of this terrace monitoring scheme. Only the database was created using the gathered data for Barangay Bangaan.
The results are relayed back to the Community-Based Natural Resource Management Council of the barangay and become the basis of their action plan for their workgroups. The same process can also be used for communicating with the municipal and provincial board or other external agencies to make a request for any assistance or to bring up any issues that need direct attention. Such a set-up is also a joint learning system, as the interaction of knowledge processes is gleaned from each node of communication. This research was able to demonstrate that limitations in computer know-how are not a deterrent to engage in GIS-assisted joint learning for channeling efforts towards new platforms to debate about environmental futures. Local participation is precisely the key in systematically taking stock of the resource base, monitoring and understanding local conditions by sharing perspectives, and debating collective action for sustainable natural resource management.
Since March 2003, the local government of Ifugao and Unesco have been conducting local stakeholders’ meetings to gather more information about local people’s views and the identification of major terrace clusters that Unesco added to its World Heritage List. The clusters include those in: Banaue-Batad-Bangaan cluster, Central Mayoyao cluster, Kiangan-Nagacadan cluster, and Hungduan cluster; they are the most extensive of all the clusters, and the best examples of traditional terrace management still in practice.
A methodology to utilize a combination of stereo SPOT-5 images to be able to derive a DEM and delineate each of these terrace clusters has been proposed. Negotiations are underway for funding the project. Fieldwork by students taking up their master’s classes at the University of the Philippines have been done to ascertain the methodology, especially in identifying and locating more ground control points that would serve in future geo-referencing process. All these efforts were done in coordination with local government units (barangays).