You can gauge a country's wealth, its real wealth, by its tree cover. --- Richard St. Barbe Baker
IT’s as old as our history and we have been at it since the 1980’s – bringing back the green luster of our forest cover, which now stands at 7 million hectares.
A far cry from the 21 million hectares of forest blanketing the country at the turn of the 20th Century.
Realizing its time to bring together various efforts to “walk the talk” along the path of “Tuwid na Daan,” President Benigno S Aquino III signed Executive Order No. 26 on February 24, 2011, which is by far “the widest and most sustained reforestation venture ever embarked on a national scale combining the resources and manpower of almost all national line agencies,” according to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, a licensed forester and who have been with the DENR since the 80’s. The goal: 1.5 billion trees covering about 1.5 million hectares for a period of six (6) years, from 2011 to 2016.
So on May 13, 2011, President Aquino launched a major new effort: the National Greening Program (NGP) where the three key national agencies, namely: the DENR, the Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) would systematically “marry” their operations and activities for ways to percolate the country’s green renaissance as envisioned in EO 23 and 26 under a convergence framework among the three key agencies towards a more focused and unified interventions to achieve sustainable rural development.
But NGP doesn't want to just raise trees, it wants to change the way we think about trees and forests.
A major part of this undertaking goes beyond mere tree planting, as Paje noted, pointing to the poverty alleviation, food security and even value formation of Filipinos on looking at the country’s precious forest resources as the strength of the program that assures its viability and continuation even in the post-Pnoy era.
This was no less true of the enormous concentration of steadfastness and dedication aptly made analogous to the iconic symbolisms of the Filipino peasants’ hard life as told in the folksong “Magtanim ay Di Biro” and from which President Aquino aptly drew an analogy to underscore the enormous challenge and resolve ahead:
“Sabi po sa isang awiting…Ang magtanim ay ‘di biro. Sang-ayon po ako dito: Hindi biro ang magbungkal ng matigas na lupa, hindi biro ang yumuko at mangawit sa pagtatanim ng punla, hindi biro ang mabilad sa ilalim ng tirik na araw. Ngunit alam din po natin ang tutubong biyaya kapalit ng sipag at pagsusumikap natin; seryosong bagay ang pagtatanim dahil anumang may kaugnayan sa Inang kalikasan ay isang seryosong usapin.
“Kaya naman ngayong araw, patutunayan nating seryoso tayo, hindi lamang sa mismong pagtatanim, kundi sa kapit-bisig nating paninindigan na pangalagaan ang ating Inang Kalikasan. Sa paglulunsad natin sa National Greening Program, nagpupunla tayo ng mga butil ng pag-asa para sa kalikasan, na siya namang tiyak na aanihin ng mga susunod na Pilipino.”
Paje explained that past reforestation efforts were not easily recognizable as a tool to fight poverty and hunger as it was interwoven into the maze of other national issues. With EO 26 which adopts NGP as a national priority, he said the effort has been turned into a well-oiled engine designed to bear directly to the stability of the country’s food security, poverty reduction and even climate change mitigation.
“It's fitting, then, that the country’s green renaissance will be percolating this year on a high note with our nation’s leader leading by example,” said Paje.
NGP’s goal wont be easy
Consider: the government’s overall performance in reforestation is at an average of 30,000 hectares annually, and it would take 280 years to reforest eight million hectares, according to the DENR-Forest Management Bureau.
But Paje thinks it is not. The secret weapon this time: EO 26’s adoption of the convergence strategy.
NGP aims to reforest 100,000 hectares requiring 100 million seedlings needed for 2011; 200,000 hectares with 200 million seedlings for 2012; and 300,000 hectares with 300 million seedlings annually for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Half of the total number of seedlings to be planted would be forest tree species for timber production and protection purposes, with the other half consisting of tree species used in agroforestry sites conducive for growing cash crops and fruits.
Says Paje: “It's ambitious, it's a very ambitious goal, If it were just about planting 1.5 billion trees then NGP becomes a public relations ploy, and not about forests. But that’s not NGP. NGP takes its strength from converging the skills and resources of just about every sector in our society, be it in public or private sectors. What we really want are healthy and mature 1.5 billion trees. We want trees we can take care of, not just numbers."
Convergence, as a strategy, is a response to the fragmented delivery of agriculture and rural development services; a holistic perspective of the ecosystem for mutually reinforcing interventions for improved governance and to maximize use of resources. The convergence strategy adopts the watershed ecosystem management approach as the intervention framework in convergence areas. Convergence as a response to poverty reduction has a defined constituency; focus of interventions are small farmers, fisherfolks and marginalized upland dwellers - especially those in areas covered by tenurial instruments of DENR.
The main guiding principles of the convergence are: complementation of the three agencies’ resources and expertise, recognition that local government units (LGUs) are the integrating and converging force at the local level for sustainability of interventions; adoption of participatory approach as an indispensable part of all phases of the development cycle (planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation the development cycle; and provision of an enabling environment to bring-in investments by the private sector.
To the DENR chief, the prospect of resuscitating a piece of Philippine history isn't just good business especially for the private sector, it's a chance to be an integral part of the nation’s green renaissance.
A key feature of NGP, Paje explained, is to correct certain gaps in past reforestation undertakings where planting is “left at the discretion of the tree planters which usually were concentrated in areas that were most convenient to them without regard to whether the tree seedlings planted will thrive in those areas.”
“Before, we just allow civil society, government and private sector to plant without concerned government agencies such as the DENR and the DA prescribing them how, where and what to plant,” he said.
“This time under NGP, convenience is not really an issue but whether somebody will take care of what have been planted. We will only plant in tenured areas, meaning, where there are communities who will take care of the plantation. Nurturing plays a key role in NGP,”
Paje notes, adding that another feature of NGP is that it will also spur the country to achieve wood sufficiency to meet the demands of industry, manufacturing handicraft and furniture industry since the program revolves on the compatibility of species and location.
NGP also has the advantage of tapping into the President’s “social capital” to get the people’s participation which Paje is certain to inspire popular support for the program. “In the NGP system, we will have people’s organizations to take care of the planted seedlings since the benefits of the planted seedlings will accrue to them,” he explains.
“What we can do is philanthropically commit our resources and manpower for this program. NGP presents an opportunity to all of us to reinvest them back into the country’s forest. It will bring together all the folks that have helped realize define Philippine environmentalism throughout the years, from farmers and youth to volunteers and environmentalists,” Paje stressed.#