Gender, Trees, and Tenure: Land-Use Priorities in an Indigenous Upland Community - Ifugao, Philippines

By McKay, Deirdre | Journal of Business Administration, Annual 1994 | Go to article overview

Gender, Trees, and Tenure: Land-Use Priorities in an Indigenous Upland Community - Ifugao, Philippines


McKay, Deirdre, Journal of Business Administration


The concept that those with the most immediate interest in natural resources should control their development or protection, ensuring that their needs are met in the process, is a common sense idea. It lies at the heart of the criticisms of development based on the premise of state control and top-down management, strategies now seriously discredited. Korten's alternative paradigm of community-based resource management entails the creation of "novel strategies" to "strengthen and broaden the local base of effective resource control."(1) These new strategies will be, by design, ones that meet both people's economic needs and the requirements for long-term sustainability.

As a concept, community management has generated strong critiques of development tradition which, not infrequently, end in a call for the "organization" of communities. Thus, development practitioners are attempting to find ways to integrate community involvement into critical points of the project cycle in order to meet the terms of the new paradigm.(2) Just where, in a collection of people comprising a community, this local base of resource control is to be found is not specified by the model, nor is its identification and integration perhaps as simple as the constraints faced by practitioners would allow.

What appears to be lacking in the analysis of those promoting community management is a well-internalized understanding of the nature of community. It is easy to devolve authority to groups or particular leaders, overlooking the very real issues of stratification and the socially structured forms of access to power and resources which comprise a community. Community management in practice targets "community groups" as key stakeholders. Such groups are frequently somewhat artificial, created by a project's "community organizers" or arising in response to an anticipated injection of cash and resources, rather than a genuine attempt to respond to a self-identified problem or challenge on the part of the members.

It is unlikely that new community management systems can be successfully introduced without addressing and incorporating the results of previous cycles of social and agricultural change. To truly broaden the base of resource control in a given community requires an appreciation of both the current stratification and the historic processes which produced that result, rather than a superficial attempt to organize around objectives which remain the impositions of outside agents.

This article will present some of the complexities confronting attempts to achieve community management which arise from issues of gender and stratified access to resources. It is based on field research conducted in Ifugao, Philippines, which focused on the factors determining individual and community land-use priorities.(3) Within this intersection of development, environment, and community, I will examine gender as a socially constructed category. The resulting analysis suggests some elements which might be incorporated into the design of community-based management initiatives for forest conservation.

Placing Concepts in Context

Development, at the community level, is an historic process of change created by individual actors within and impinging forces from without. It can be strongly directed or influenced by the actions of the state and international agencies. In the area of my study, the Ayangan-Ifugao group that had settled the valley in the 1890s had experienced a series of transitions in agricultural production.(4) Originally practicing extensive swidden agriculture with some wet rice terracing, they moved to intensive wet rice cultivation and then to even more intensive high-input HYV rice and cash crops. Beginning in the early 1970s with the production of coffee for export, the community entered into commercial agriculture. This has been extended to bananas and, most recently, input-intensive vegetables for the national market. …

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