Marketing of Philippine Indigenous Crafts: Providing Livelihoods and Additional Income to Forest-Based Communities

by Genevieve Jurolan Labadan


12-15M indigenous people in the Philippines depend on forests for their survival.

Forest is the source of food, livelihood, recreation, medicine, housing materials for the indigenous peoples in the Philippines. This kind of dependence I believe is common to all indigenous peoples all over the world.

It is also in the forest where the culture and identity of the indigenous communities revolves and is established. Without the forest, they cannot continue with their unique life ways.

But as in any forests ecosystems around the world, Philippine forests face the problems and threats.

There is an alarming rate of forest depletion and degradation in the Philippines.

Forest cover decreased to about 49% by 1950, and 23% by 1988 and is projected to further reduce to a meager 6% in year 2010.

This is just to show that Philippine forests, being the very lifeblood of indigenous peoples, are fast disappearing. So are the livelihoods, cultures and the unique relationship between indigenous peoples and the forest.

There is also mining that have direct effects to forest decline which in turn displace indigenous peoples and forest-based communities. We also have the degradation of our agricultural cropland.

All these ¡V destruction of ecosystems, decline in soil fertility, etcetera - have caused negative impacts on the economies of forest-based communities. There are the reduced possibilities for harvesting forest resources and products both for subsistence and livelihood. There are also the prospects of malnutrition or starvation, distress and hardships.

Poverty is the end result of all these forest and environmental distress.

The response of Non-Timber Forest Products-Task Force (NTFP-TF) to the present-time poverty that the forest-based communities are facing is NTFP-based alternative livelihoods that address the economic needs of indigenous communities while encouraging cultural preservation and forest conservation.

The NTFP Task Force has worked towards developing culturally appropriate and environmentally¡Vbenign, economic alternatives for forest based peoples.

The Non-Timber Forest Products-Task Force (NTFP-TF)

The NTFP - Task Force is a collaborative network of Philippine grassroots-based NGOs and Peoples Organizations. It was established to address the emerging livelihood needs of upland forest peoples. The Task Force focuses on NTFP development and management issues in the context of sustainable tropical forest management.

We promote NTFP development that: does not adversely affect cultures and traditions, empowers and strengthens communities to be effective stewards of natural resources, uses appropriate technology and incorporates indigenous knowledge systems and practices whenever suitable, strikes a balance between economic development and ecological conservation and recognizes women as vital partners in NTFP development.

What are NTFPs? Non-timber forest products or NTFPs are all the biological resources we get from forests, other than timber.

Other examples of NTFPs are: edible plants and animals such as fruits, nuts, mushrooms, fish, aquatic invertebrates, terrestrial wildlife, resin, natural dyes, ornamental plants, fiber, gums, herbal medicines, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Crafts Program

Our Crafts Program started in December 2002 and gave birth to its marketing arm, the Custom Made Crafts Center or CMCC, in response to the marketing needs of community partners, mostly forest-based communities, who are involved in the handicrafts enterprise.

The overall objectives of CMCC are as follows-

  • Improve the economic and social conditions of producers from upland communities
  • Develop and globally expand the market for Indigenous Philippine Handicrafts that highlight Filipino culture, craftsmanship, gender equality, functionality, and natural resource sustainability.
  • Preserve and promote the continuation of traditional arts and lifestyles of upland craft makers.

The overall strategy of the marketing program is strengthening and working towards the viability and sustainability of both Custom Made Crafts Center and the community-based crafts enterprises.

Our opportunities lie in the fact that-

  1. There is a growing fair trade market; and NTFP-Task Force is recognized locally as a fair trader (NTFP is a board member of the pftf and inclusion of cultural protection standards)
  2. There is a growing network both in the local and international setting
  3. Ethical and Eco Brands are now in fashion ¡V current fashion dictates that taste for the natural, green, organic and ethnic themes.
  4. And also, there is a growing interest of producers in that more and more producers are being added to our reach each year.

We have two brand names ¡V custom made and modi. Custom made highlights on function. Production of custom made products is of higher volume. Modi is a fusion of traditional skills and designs and contemporary design and function. Modi is a high-end lifestyle line featuring home and fashion accessories.

Our marketing slogans are ¡V respecting traditions, promoting craftsmanship, conserving resources and meeting needs.

In our crafts production program, we have a total of 18 enterprise groups, 10 indigenous communities and 409 direct partner producers as of year 2007.

These are sample products of our partner indigenous communities -the maranaw or Maguindanaoan malong, Iraya jar, Higaonon hinabol or abaca cloth, the Palawan pandan mats, Higaonon traditional bag and the Mangyan ramit.

We have handcrafted baskets, hand-woven textiles, intricate embroideries, accessories and adornments, home decors as well as office and conference items.

CMCC sales trend has been growing steadily and increasing every year. We broke even in 2007and earned Php3.7M last year. There are 4 full time CMCC staff and new Finance officer and a production assistant will be hired soon. CMCC is one of the few working successfully on fair trade of crafts in the domestic scenario, especially on IP crafts. Our crafts program is moving towards independent operations (and SEC registration is being processed and a board of directors has been convened). CMCC has set business indicators which will be used to measure growth and achievements of the business.

Forest-Based Enterprise Development: The Higaonon Experience

Even if CMCC marketing strategy is good, it will not be able to sell and sustain product delivery without the community-level production efficiency. Empowering indigenous people is essential to help them achieve a viable enterprise that sustains itself through production efficiency.

Higaonon is an ethno-liquistic group and forest-based people in the southern part of the Philippines. Their women produce an abaca woven fabric called hinabol. This fabric we used as raw materials for other finished products like bags, notebooks, training kits, among others. I work closely with them towards making their community enterprise a viable and sustainable business.

In the Higaonon communities, we do organizational development support - like setting up systems and business planning in a way that is participative, culturally acceptable and easy for them to understand.

We also do production efficiency techniques (value chain, RM inventory and storage, technology and equipment upgrade and production monitoring systems), local marketing and product development (natural dye and product designing).

We have to effect empowerment and learning in a way that is creative and innovative through the use of the following learning methodologies (role playing, games, interactive learning, brainstorming, etc.)


The combined sales of the 2 CEs in Bukidnon increased by 15% in 2006 and in 2007, total sales increased by 204%. They had losses during the first 2 years (05-07) but in 2007, they already gained income from their crafts business.

Overall, sales for all our partner ewnterprise groups is from 2005-2006 increased by 72% but sales from 2006-2007 decreased by 1%; despite the decrease in overall sales, sales due to project still went up by 6%.

Market outlets have also increased for all our project partners.

As for the social impact, there is improved reputation of the group. Weavers are now locally known as quality Hinabol weavers; weavers are contracted as trainers in communities outside their town.

Impact to family includes - improved capacity of families to send children to school, women shared decision making power in the household and there is women's increasing share in meeting family¡¦s economic needs.

But women have less time for family and social activities now and they tend to be overburdened.

Women producers, because of their purchasing power acquired personal belongings, able to beautify and dress themselves. As a result, there is improved self confidence. There is also growing consciousness among men to actively earn income to reciprocate what their women are doing for the family.

Impact on culture includes preservation and promotion of culture. Concrete example is the revival of natural dyeing and the promotion of traditional skills (weaving, embroidery, etc.) within the forest-based communities.

Environmental impact includes - propagation and protection of natural dye resource, reduction or minimized resource-depleting activities (such as slash and burn practices that result to soil erosion and charcoal making activities).

One impact to the environment as a result of income from the enterprise is the preservation of ancestral domain property from pawning.