- Almaciga resin, also known as Manila copal, is used as an additive in industrial products like varnish and linoleum, as well as traditionally for starting fires, caulking boats and fumigating against mosquitoes.
- If practiced responsibly, harvesting almaciga resin offers an ecologically sustainable income stream for the Indigenous people and local communities best positioned to protect the Philippines’ diminishing natural forests.
- However, a string of middlemen, little transparency about pricing, and lack of access to formal financial institutions means that the communities that rely on tapping resin for cash remain mired in poverty.
Mount Mantalingahan, PHILIPPINES —Ubre Tiblak can vividly remember the day he fell coming down the mountain.
It was a rainy afternoon in June 2015, and the 66-kilogram (145-pound) pack on his back held three months’ worth of resin from the almaciga tree (Agathis philippinensis), an ingredient used in the manufacture of paint and varnish.
The pack weighed more than he did, and the trail through the jungle of Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape in the Philippines’ Palawan province was steep and slippery, punctuated with sharp rocks and thorny bushes. As he reached a small waterfall, he stumbled, his vision blurred, and he fell, cutting his heel and his hand.
“When I plunged to the ground, I asked myself whether to continue the descent or leave the load there,” said Tiblak, now 35, a member of the Pala’wan Indigenous group. “But I rose up despite the excruciating pain, because I needed to deliver it to the buyer before that day ended.”
The father of two felt the rainwater rinsing his fresh wounds as he trudged down the mountain. “I thought of my children who were very young back then,” he said. “Had I left the resins along the trail, I wouldn’t have money to buy them fish, noodles and rice.
“I told myself, ‘Maybe that’s how life is, because I was born poor and needed to strive hard to survive.’”
The buyer, a middleman, handed over the payment to Tiblak. After waiting three months for the resin to be ready, and a final trek that almost cost him his life, he received 528 pesos, or about $12 at the time.
Stories like Tiblak’s highlight the ethical issues surrounding the Philippines’ almaciga resin industry, an important foreign exchange earner for the country, with a total export value of $3.14 million for 2001-2021.
If practiced responsibly, harvesting almaciga resin offers an ecologically sustainable income stream for the Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) best positioned to protect the country’s fast-diminishing natural forests. But in its current state, the industry falls short of lifting such communities from poverty.
Banner Image: Almaciga trees when tapped produce resins that provide an ecologically sustainable income stream for Pala’wan people like Ubre Tiblak who live in the Philippines’ Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.