During the sugar crisis in the 1980’s, Bais City whose economy was dependent on sugar experienced social unrest due to unemployment; increased insurgency; massive destruction of the forest (only 500 left of the 13,000 hectares of rainforest); and degradation of marine and coastal resources. Around 65 percent of the total population lived below the poverty line. The displaced workers of sugar plantations became marginal hillyland farmers and artisanal fishers which increased the pressure on the city’s already degraded natural resources. Compounding these problems were concerns on soil erosion, flash floods, watershed degradation which prompted the city government to undertake this program in 1993 with a jingle entitled: “This Time Make It Bais, It’s Yours to Discover.”
The program showcased a comprehensive and integrated ecosystem approach laid out in a 10 year development plan. The program included the following packages: beautification for ecological security and tourism; nature appreciation tours; agri-reforestation; local integrated ventures for effective acceleration of fishery resources and upland agriculture. Bais City has been identified as one of the economic corridors of Negros Oriental, a site for ecozone development, agri-based processing and eco-tourism.
As a result of the program, a strong middle class was created. Unemployment was reduced by 56% and eco-tourism blossomed with increased arrivals of foreign and local visitors, (around 500 monthly) to see the spinning dolphins as the city’s unique attraction. The program also introduced new techniques in cloning mango, new methods of farming, mangroves rehabilitation and fishing techniques like sea ranching for shells and fish. This intervention increased the income of the marginalized workers by 30 to 50 percent. These livelihood activities are eliminated in the process of illegal and destructive fishing. The dynamic eco-tourism industry generated employment opportunities for the city and made it attractive to businessmen and investors interested in setting up environment-friendly enterprises.
This program is recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Programs in the 1997 Galing Pook Awards.