Forest the new economy



I have always wanted to know the names of trees as I drive along our highways and towards our little farm in Amadeo, Cavite. It has been a dream to get to know the difference between mahogany and gemelina, as much as I sort of know the difference among coffee tree varieties or even cacao trees.

But forest trees have always amazed me. The height, the girth and their lush foliage always gave one a sense of peace and quiet because they almost envelop you or embrace you with their sheer size. So knowing trees and their genus and species is on my bucket list.

To my surprise, the universe answered my wishes and I got to attend a Special Sponsor session on Forest:The New Economy at the recent 11th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There I met the very amiable Tun Jeanne Abdullah who happens to chair two non-profits: Landskap Malaysia and the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Center.

I also met Dr. Reza Azmi of a social enterprise called Wild Asia ( who seeks not just to reforest or plant trees but in the process bring back animal life to the rainforests for natural bio¬diversity. Dr Reza was the moderator for the distinguished panel of experts which made me think about our country and if there was such a movement or social enterprise like his or Madame Abdullah’s non-profits.

Todate they have brought back the forest to three areas in peninsular Malaysia where they have living collections of biodiversity. These sites provide a sanctuary for endangered plants. How will it be sustainable? The sites will have to be converted to eco tourism sites to generate economic activity and help sustain the operations of the “research cum tourist destination.”

Have you heard of sustainable timber? TRCRC has also done a pilot project where wood waste can be economically converted into ethanol/lactic acid to produce biodegradeable plastics and they have models where partners have developed models for sustainable integrated forestry. We are so far away from all these. We are still trying to catch the illegal loggers. I remember a friend in Palawan, an activist, who confiscated chainsaws to reduce illegal logging.

Further these NGOs and social enterprises encourage biodiverse forests for fruit production, too. And medicinal plants and herbs. In fact, just like FlorTarriela, a naturalist and Dr Jaime Galvez-Tan, another naturopath and medical doctor TRCRC also helped launch a new book on medicinal plants in Malaysia to complement their reforestation efforts. Dr. Galvez-Tan and his wife Becks have published a similar book on Medicinal Plants in the Philippines. These weeds as we call them, are actually under¬utilized medicinal plants. To quote one of the speakers” these weeds keep growing back because they have a purpose.” And it is us who dismiss it and use herbicide to kill them and keep killing them.

Now don’t call me a treehugger just yet. Treehugger is a colloquial term used for those who do not want to touch the forest at all. I dream of creating more forests so we can live well. It will help us breathe well, eat well and never have to take lab-concocted so called “medicines.” Like they say, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

And never ever step on a plant again. That might just be the herb you will need when you have dengue. That may as well be “tawatawa”, and as Dr Abdul GhaniHussain (one of the authors of the ebook) told me, they also have such a plant that reduces dengue symptoms and kills the dengue virus. Maybe it’s tawatawa too.

People who troop to our store to buy tincture of tawatawa can tell you their positive effects not just on dengue cases but on general well-being. No therapeutic claims but they fly off our shelves or counters.

So, let’s start to save our forests. It is in the rainforests that we find everything nature has for us. Even durian is sweetest from the forest, not from a plantation. The forest gives us all we need—medicines, food and therapy. But where have our forests gone?

Meanwhile, check out the ebook on Google Play or the Appstore. It’s called Nature’s Medicine—A Collection of Medicinal Plants from Malaysia’s Rainforests. The authors are doctors: Abdul GhaniHussain, KhatijahHussin and NormahMohd Noor.

Think about planting your first tree. If everyone planted a tree, we would have a million trees every day and that’s a good thing.

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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City and Antipolo City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at


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