Monday, November 10, 2014

Alien Trees and the NGP

I am a dumbbell when it comes to forest biodiversity but as a pro-environment advocate, I am trying to grasp it little-by-little and to borrow from the Beatles, with a little help from my friends in the forestry sector like Charlou Ormega of Haribon. Allow me to take off from National Greening Program or NGP. The NGP is a massive forest rehabilitation program of the government established by virtue of Executive Order No. 26 issued on February 24, 2011 by President Benigno S. Aquino III. It seeks to grow and maintain 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares nationwide within a period of six years, from 2011 to 2016. The intention is sacred but its malevolence lies in its specifications.

Allow me to say this as a starter: The NGP only made worse many reforested areas because biologically diverse forests have been replaced with single species planted for commercial purposes such as palm oil, rubber and cacao plantations. Fast-growing exotic and invasive species like large leaf mahogany and eucalyptus included. Deep inside our forests, these “alien” species have invaded us!

Only last year, even the Intex Resources Philippines, Inc. a Norwegian nickel mining company based in Mindoro initiated the “Livelihood Enhancement through Agro-Forestry” or LEAF saying initially that it’s the company’s response to government’s call for private sector participation in the NGP. Last year, in Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm (SPPF), a total of 17-hectare demonstration farm and nursery for coffee and rubber trees can be found. Also last year, Intex received a certificate of recognition from Mines and Geosciences Bureau Region IV-B Director Roland de Jesus, for the company’s “continuous support and very satisfactory accomplishment in the implementation of the National Greening of Program of the Administration of President Aquino geared towards poverty alleviation in the countryside and climate change mitigation and adaptation.” Nice achievement though at hindsight. Like mining, these species tend to ingress our forests and other natural resources.

The NGP the way it is implemented then and now is not reforestation but plantation. Aside from being a reforestation initiative, it is also designed to reduce poverty, providing alternative livelihood activities for marginalized upland and lowland households relating to seedling production and care and maintenance of newly-planted trees. But the question of sustainability and its contribution to biodiversity need concrete answers. As mitigation strategy to climate change, the NGP is no doubt helpful and the DENR deserves a tap on its shoulder for that.

But since the NGP holds true to the concepts plantations rather than reforestation, it produces negative effects in terms of biodiversity. The exotic and evasive species that the NGP are propagating are vulnerable to pest attacks and unable to restore the old, endemic rain forest species. Problems have only gotten worse in many reforested areas because biologically diverse forests have been replaced with single species planted for commercial purposes.

Invasive species are a major threat to our environment because they can change habitats and alter ecosystem function and ecosystem services; crowd out or replace native species; and damage human activities. In fact, the most common species introduced through the NGP are considered a greater threat to biodiversity by causing disease, acting as predators or parasites or as competitors to endemic species, altering habitat or hybridizing with local species.

In 2004, DENR issued Memo Circular No. 6 saying that it is state policy to manage and restore “forests approximate their original structure and functions, and conserve the biological diversity.” But that is only on paper. Denuded areas were instead planted with fast-growing exotic species from big-leaf mahogany teak to Moluccan sau or falcata and eucalyptus.

The NGP is true to its name for it concerns only in greening…

(Photo : Sablayan Herald)

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