The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and two leading conservation groups at the forefront of saving the country’s indigenous trees entered into a five-year contract to ascertain the supply of tree seedlings of prized native tree species for the National Greening Program (NGP).

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje signed last week a Memorandum of Agreement with the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) and the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation, Inc (PTFCF) which effectively opened the door of some 200 civil society organizations (CSOs) under FPE’s and PTFCF’s projects the opportunity to take part in the NGP in terms of producing planting materials using native tree species.

“This contract reflects NGP’s commitment to engage people’s organizations and their partners in the non-government organizations such as the FPE and PTFCF to ensure the success of the program,” Paje said, noting that contract essentially give particular attention to the production of quality forest and fruit tree seedlings that are endemic to a specific NGP planting site.

Both FPE and PTFCF have been promoting the concept of “rainforestation” -- a concept that puts emphasis on using indigenous species for reforestation instead of fast-growing, non-endemic species – since the 1990s and in the early 2000, respectively, through their partner forest communities, people’s organizations and NGOs that are organized into CSOs.

Among the contributions to be gained by the partnership include ensured community livelihood, reduced impacts from climate change, increased promotion of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development within the locality.

Paje said that the DENR-FPR-PTFCF partnership was spurred by NGP’s agenda to push for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, noting that the areas placed for rehabilitation under the program have been expanded to include those being worked on by people’s organizations supported by FPE and PTFCF, aside from areas identified by the DENR.

Paje stressed the partnership can alsoserve as a model for future partnerships with other similar organizations, particularly on how to guarantee delivery and production of the committed seedlings, effective coordination between NGOs and other government programs to generate better synergy between NGP and other programs of government, such as the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, a version of which is the environmental CCT currently being designed under the NGP, and the sustainability of the reforestation projects at the community level.

In a statement, PTFCF officer Dr. Perry Ong described the MOA as a “game changer” as the DENR is gradually steering its policy away from the use of exotic species to native species for its reforestation programs.

Paje said that in the past, the government pursued a nationwide reforestation program to immediately reforest depleted and denuded vegetative cover using fast-growing exotic species. However, he said, the efforts were besieged with several problems, among them the low survival rate of planted exotic species due to site incompatibility and susceptibility to pests and diseases.

On the other hand, the advantage of using native tree species, according to him, is that they are well adapted to local conditions and have inherent ecological adaptability in the site aside from being readily available for propagation from seed, cutting or wildlings.

Last year the NGP raised and planted some 69.3 million tree seedlings in more than 118,000 hectares. Of the total planted seedlings, five million consisted of indigenous species like acacia, mayapis, molave, tindalo, toog, and teak.

For this year, the NGP aims to raise some 114 million seedlings, 14 million of which are native tree species to be planted over 200,000 hectares.

The DENR is also tapping state universities and colleges (SUCs) nationwide to augment its nurseries across the country producing indigenous tree seedlings using non-mist clonal technology through its Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB). Around 30 more agreements with SUCS have been lined up so far by the DENR.