lgsp-ledMANILA — A Canada-funded project has generated P728.9 million investments and is boosting tourism that is, in turn, uplifting lives of indigenous people in South Cotabato.

The Local Governance Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED) has generated public investment of P561.4 million from 2011 to 2013.

Funds were poured into access to key tourism sites.   From the private sector, it generated P167.5 million in investments from 2011 to March 2014.

It is creating job opportunities in the province which should turn people away from destroying South Cotabato’s rich natural resources, said South Cotabato Governor Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes, chairman of the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA).

“If people have jobs, they would avoid destructive activities in the upland areas because they have alternative sources of income,” said Fuentes in an AVLDA program presentation.

Since 2011, 180 new male jobs and 167 female jobs have been created.

With the program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, there was an increase in the number of overnight tourists to Allah Valley by more than 25 percent annually.

Still, AVLDA, co-implemented with the LGU by the Canadian Urban Institute, has to work out peace and order programs to further promote South Cotabato.

“Because there is a need to counter the negative perception about Allah Valley and Mindanao as a whole, we spent more or less 50 percent of our local project resources in building the image of Allah Valley as a must-visit destination, foremost to the domestic market,” said Fuentes.

Included in the tourism program are the Allah Valley Mystical Tour which involves a camp in Lake Holon, crater lake of Mt. Melbingoy (Mt. Parker), Allah Valley Wildlife Encounter, and Baras Bird Sanctuary (home to 20,000 migratory birds). There is also a visit to Lake Sebu Falls Nature Park and a ride adventure to Southeast Asia’s highest zipline.

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LGSP-LED has so far linked up with tour operators through the Philippine Travelmart and online tour market.

With income initially from tourism, South Cotabato may further develop its rich natural resource for longer economic development programs. It has 22,000 hectares of farm irrigation, has suitable land with existing pineapple, banana and tree crops  Its mountain ranges are rich in biodiversity and rich T’boli cultural craft practices by indigenous people. It is also rich in gold, copper and silver.

The AVLDA Tourism Circuit is also expanding. It is connected to a Sultan Kudarat destination. This includes visit to inland reosrts, oil palm plantations, Marguez Hot and Cold Spring, and coffee plantations.

In South Cotabato, tourists can visit the Fortune Field Resort (farm for culinary catfish and freshwater fishes), Corn Husk Handicraft Center, Tripeople Monument, organic farms, Cultural Village (which has T’boli culture and T’nalak weaving, bead making, brass casting), wood carving factory, museum and house of gongs, and T’Boli School of Living Traditition.

The program has also conducted the First South Mindanao Tourism Investment Conference to promote the project.  It trained 361 tourism workers and entrepreneurs on industry skills, quality enhancement, and enterprise management.  Skills include housekeeping, food and beverage, and tour guiding.

 “People still resort to unsustainable means of livelihood, which destroys the landscape such as kaingin, logging, pag-uuling (charcoal-making) and illegal mining.  Because people remain poor, they needed to survive on a day to day basis,” Feuntes  said. (Melody Aguiba, MB)