The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Tuesday said it will propose to President Rodrigo Duterte the leasing of government land, including watershed areas, to private companies willing to engage in agro-forestry and reforestation projects.
The proposal is in line with government efforts to beef up the country’s food production and generate more jobs in the countryside.
In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he will seek the President’s approval of the Bantay Kagubatan program, a convergence project with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to promote agro-forestry farming as a means to speed up reforestation and provide livelihood to poor families in rural areas.
He said he will propose that the DA and DENR jointly undertake the agro-forestry program to reforest a million hectares of land within three to five years.
“It is time for us to be ambitious in reforesting our lands. Every time I travel and ride a helicopter and see our denuded mountains, I get scared,” Piñol said.
The renewed push for the Bantay Kagubatan program follows the DA chief’s recent trip to Finland, where agro-forestry farming accounts for 20 percent of the gross domestic product and provides thousands of Finnish families with livelihood while keeping Finland one of the world’s heavily-forested countries.
He said the DA proposal includes an agro-forestry program to be undertaken by private companies, including foreign-owned, if allowed by law, under lease contracts lasting up to 50 years “even 100 years for sustainability.”
Under his proposal, Piñol said the National Government would prioritize watershed areas for the agro-forestry farming program.
These include the Kalayaan watershed area, the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, the Pampanga River watershed area, the Panay watershed area, and the Mindanao River Basin watershed area.
He said the agro-forestry farming program’s focus is on tree species that could be harvestable in five to 10 years, as well as a permanent tree species for permanent forested areas.
In a Facebook post last week, the Agriculture secretary said he presented to then Environment Secretary Regina Lopez the Bantay Kagubatan program as a convergence project of the DA and DENR.
He said he will present the program again to Secretary Roy Cimatu, who succeeded Lopez.
“Unlike the Finnish model, the Bantay Kagubatan is a stewardship program where poor rural families are assigned to guard an area of five hectares per family,” Piñol said.
The national government will engage poor families in the targeted lands to plant at least 500 tree seedlings of both harvestable and indigenous tree species, he said.
For every growing seedling, a family will get P2 as incentive or a total of P5,000 a month if it attains a perfect survival rate. In addition, the family will receive livelihood projects, such as raising native pigs and free-range chickens.
The family will also be taught to plant second crops like black pepper, coffee, cacao, abaca or yam, and taught other farming activities like mushroom culture.