Current reforestation efforts that uses exotic trees such as mahogany and rubber are not suitable for the Philippine environment, environmental groups said.
As a response to this issue, a new approach has emerged in the restoration of Philippine forests, known as “rainforestation.”
“Rainforestation is using our native trees in restoring our forests,” according to Thaddeus Martinez, a forester from the Haribon Foundation.
“We are prioritizing some of the endemic trees within a particular place. We are always tracking to have the tree species match with the sites,” he added.
Martinez, the program coordinator for Haribon’s ROAD (Rainforestation Organizations and Advocates) to 2020 program, emphasized the use of native tree species such as the many species of dipterocarps to not only restore forests in barren areas, but also provide additional benefits for both wildlife and nearby communities.
A collection of efforts
The concept of rainforestation in the Philippines originated from the Visayas State University led by Paciencia Milan, former chair and chief executive officer of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE).
Haribon, the Philippines’s pioneer environment organization, is the current convenor of the Rainforest Restoration Initiative (RFRI), a network of national and international organizations that promotes rainforestation. These groups have collectively restored over 22,000 hectares of forest cover throughout the country since 2005.
The RFRI has conducted hundreds of tree-planting activities in provinces such as Rizal, Quezon, Zambales, Laguna, and Surigao del Sur.
Currently, the ROAD to 2020 campaign is focused on forest protection and restoration in the Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape, which spans Laguna and Quezon provinces. It serves as the home to endemic fauna such as the Philippine eagle, Luzon fruit bat, Philippine cockatoo, and Japanese bullet frog, as well as unique palms, ferns, and mahogany trees. The nearby forests also help store and purify fresh water that flows downhill toward towns such as San Pablo, Laguna.
“We provide the livelihood incentives to the communities. The communities raise the seedlings until they become fruit-bearing trees or vegetables. They maintain the site and then receive a quarterly financial incentive,” Martinez added.
How it combats climage change
Martinez stressed that rainforestation initiatives not only help increase forest cover in the Philippines; it also increases climate resiliency in the country. In contrast to the typical reforestation approach, using this method helps stabilize the natural equilibrium in forested areas, which would allow surrounding communities to adapt more easily to the impacts of climate change.
“Climate change mitigation is a long-term solution. We cannot help resiliency if your environment is not good,” he said.
“If we are trying to restore our forests, we will have bigger carbon sequestration. The more trees, the more carbon sequestration, the lesser the impact of climate change, the healthier the forests, the better the resiliency of our communities,” Martinez added.
The use of native trees also results in the return or increase of biodiversity in these areas, which helps restore natural balance crucial to local resilience to disaster events and provide more adaptable livelihoods for nearby communities.
Since the tree-planting initiative started in 2009, communities have reported changes in their environment, such as a cooler microclimate, fresher air, an increased presence of birds, insects and smaller plant species, and a moister, more fertile soil.
The improvements in soil conditions have resulted in increased productivity from farming activities, which led to higher financial incentives for farmers.
Challenges and opportunities
Despite numerous criticisms, reforestation initiatives by the government, in collaboration with the non-government and the private sectors, have succeeded in increasing forest cover in the Philippines in recent years.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that the country has around 8 million hectares of forest cover, which constitutes only 27 percent of the total land area.
However, the country experienced the fifth highest annual increase of forested area in the world from 2010 to 2015, restoring 240,000 hectares per year. This is a drastic change from the reported annual loss of 18,700 hectares of forests from 2000 to 2010.
Despite this, the Philippines still has one of the lowest forest cover in Southeast Asia. Aside from the choice of tree species unsuitable to the selected environment, local activities by nearby inhabitants have caused negative impacts on ongoing reforestation efforts.
For instance, the ROAD to 2020 program has observed the presence of small-scale farming and poaching activities in strict protection zones such as areas in the Mounts Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape.
Martinez emphasized that rainforestation is the key to ensuring that the increased forestry leads to sustainable development in local communities and stable wildlife ecosystems.
“It’s good that we have started something. And we have a clear vision of how we are going to restore our forests the right way, and that’s using our own native trees,” he said.