The dynamics of grassland transformation in Salindingan, Ilagan, Isabela, Philippines
For many years, Imperata cylindrica infested grasslands have been regarded as unproductive and of low potential for development. The light-loving nature of Imperata, coupled with continuous burning, perpetuates that species' dominance over other plants. Thus reforestation, or any tree based cropping system, is regarded as the most ideal land use type to eradicate this weed effectively. However, government attempts in the Philippines to reforest grasslands through the overseas aided Contract Reforestation Program have been costly, with a very poor performance in the initial phase. This paper gives an account of the spontaneous transformation of grasslands to other productive land use types in Salindingan, and describes the various factors which have led to the conversion processes. Aerial photographs and satellite imagery of Ilagan for 1950, 1980 and 1990 were analysed and interpreted. These were supplemented by field interviews and secondary information. Natural forest cover in the 3 years studied was 40, 7 and 0%, respectively. For grassland, the cover was 35, 33 and 6%, and for agriculture 25, 60 and 85%, respectively. However, by 1990, 9% of Ilagan's total land area had been turned into either woodlots or agroforestry farms - some of these tree systems being established spontaneously by farmers who had already participated in the failed government mediated Integrated Social Forestry Program introduced in 1989 (which had encouraged contour planting of hedgerows). Factors responsible for land use change were: (i) demographic pressure triggering forest and grasslands clearing, (ii) loose initial tenurial status of the land providing the legal climate to induce continuous landholding expansion, (iii) an information campaign for yellow corn [maize] by the San Miguel Corporation and the Department of Agriculture, which increased cropping intensity, and (iv) the presence of ready market and credit assistance from private moneylenders motivating farmers to change cropping patterns towards higher productivity and environmental stability. Salindingan's grassland transformation could prototype a larger scale conversion towards more stable land use, even though it was largely spontaneous and market driven. This example shows that by meeting farmers' basic farming needs (e.g. by the provision of more planting area, capital and ready market) spontaneous transition from highly destructive to sustainable land use management can be achieved, without necessarily depending heavily on direct government financial support.