August 30, 2022

Webinar reveals crucial links between craft and forests

@Lily Villanueva. L-R. Chieftain Linda Francia, Marcelino Francia “Bantay Gubat” and Twinkle Ferraren.

Woven Networks Sharing Sessions is an online webinar happening on 30 August – 2 September featuring craft changemakers from the Philippines and the UK. Speakers will present stories and findings from Woven Networks, a research grant programme aiming to grow forest resources and livelihood by strengthening the role of artisans in sustainable development.

‘Through Woven Networks, we wanted to highlight the importance of craft in responding to global challenges, such as climate change and social inclusion. The interdependence between livelihood, forests and culture is not always understood,’ shares Malaya del Rosario, Head of Arts at the British Council. ‘In partnership with the Forest Foundation, we awarded grants to trusted intermediaries – designers, academics and development experts. We were able to map fifteen craft communities in the Philippines, from weaving cooperatives in Isabela to the indigenous Higaonon weavers in Bukidnon.’ 

The grantees also involved artisans, foresters and UK-based counterparts in their projects. As cited in a 2019 British Council report, international exchange and cross-sectoral collaboration are key in solving complex problems.

A notable finding by grantee, Carmen Roceli Lopez, is that in Samar and Leyte, only 4 per cent of mat weavers are aged 15-24, while 50 per cent are 65-74 years old. The small number of young, culture bearers is alarming for a disaster-prone region that is highly dependent on traditional mat weaving for their livelihood. Lopez’s research cites recommendations on what can be done. Representatives from Panublix Social Enterprise, University of Santo Tomas and the Royal College of Art in London, among many others, will also be speaking at the event.

‘The results of the research grants are just eye-opening. You need to attend the sharing sessions to truly appreciate the wealth of knowledge that has been gathered,’ del Rosario says.

The webinar will culminate on 2 September with the launch of the virtual exhibition, From land to loom, from fibre to form: Woven Networks research projects, curated by Tessa Maria Guazon. It will celebrate programme highlights and feature objects from the National Museum of Anthropology collection. 

The four-day webinar is free but registration is required via the British Council Philippines’ webpage. It will be on 30 Aug – 2 Sep 2022, via Zoom from 4.00–5.30 p.m. (PH) / 9.00–10.30 a.m. (UK).

There are around 60 million indigenous people who rely on the forest for their livelihood, according to the United Nations. In the Philippines, many of them are women artisans and weavers. They greatly depend on non-timber forest products like rattan, abaca, raffia, or pandan, turning them into clothing, baskets and other objects. However, mass production of craft products has led to overexploitation of forest resources, unsustainable practices, and increased vulnerability to climate change. 

Despite policies that support community-based forest management in the Philippines, there are still complex factors preventing indigenous peoples, particularly the women, from participating more in forest conservation. They often face extreme marginalisation and discrimination. The location of their homes, usually in remote areas, makes it difficult for them to be represented or access opportunities. 

Woven Networks – Craft changemakers conserving forests is a one-year partnership between the Forest Foundation and the British Council through its Crafting Futures global programme, in collaboration with the National Museum of the Philippines. It aims to spark exciting collaborative research and development of the weaving sector in the Philippines. It supports projects that champion indigenous knowledge systems towards sustainable resource management and improved livelihood of craft communities.