In the mountains of Mindanao, Philippines, the forests are still being lost. But in the small community of Bendum in Bukidnon, the forest has been maintained over the last 20 years through a youth program with the Pulangiyen indigenous community.
Not only are these youth seeking to stop illegal logging, they are also actively extending the forest cover. Extending the forest will help minimize soil erosion as well as rehabilitate a stretch of stream for a better water source through activities that assist the natural regeneration of forest.
The indigenous Pulangiyen community practices agroforestry and assists in the natural regeneration of forests along the Pantadon Range. The youth in Bendum do their part by removing the grasses and protecting seedlings. They also manage through controlled disturbances to trigger germination of native species in regenerating areas.
This group of youth from the villages of Upper Pulangi watershed now want to set up a better structure for protecting and extending the forest area through support from the program Flights for Forests. This support provides a basic honorarium to one of the youth managing the program and the materials needed to support the activities. Through this youth activity, there is also the intention to encourage other communities, youth, or parish-based organisations to also develop a similar program, such as establishing a nursery or a community of forests.
Environmental rehabilitation is more than just tree planting
To many people, reforestation simply means tree planting. Environmental rehabilitation, especially for degraded forest areas, is often viewed within a reforestation program where fast-growing species from harsher climates (but that thrive well in tropical moist conditions such as the Philippines) are selected for planting.
However, there is much more to reforestation than tree planting. Before embarking on any tree planting activity, it is important to ask:
- Where do we plant? This involves site selection, agreement demarcation, and protection.
- What species do we plant and who will plant? The decision involves clarity on the intended purpose, who has use or rights over what is planted, will this involve fast-growing trees, will assisted natural regeneration or agroforestry be applied where there is food and tree crop integration.
- Who will help them grow? When trees are planted they are often abandoned and people feel the job is done. If on other occasions the trees are threatened or damaged, nobody feels obliged to act. The survival of the trees seems unconnected to the original activity that had a vision. Maintenance is more than 50 percent of the work.
- Who will benefit once they are grown? Is there personal, organizational and collective value in the activity?
Reforestation is often a government program trying to cover a critical part of a watershed where there is forest and land degradation. The problem with much of the reforestation is the lack of maintenance after a year or two and the species selected. Many of the trees, if they do manage to grow are subject to illegal cutting in the early years of plantation, because they are plantation species that have a commercial value.
In the Philippines, contract reforestation programs aimed for an 80% survival rate but were unsuccessful, as both independent and government studies showed varying results of reforestation programs three years after planting. Reasons for the low short-term survival rates of past reforestation efforts include pests, fire, poor species selection, site matching, disregard for quality and end use, and poor silvicultural practices. (Source: Revised Philippine Master Plan for Forestry Development, 2003)
On the other hand indigenous species grow more slowly, can have other cultural values than cash equivalence, and contribute in much greater depth to ecological services.
What the Upper Pulangi youth are doing to bring back the forests
In the last year, Pulangiyen youth identified the Upper Ki-asu stream as a focused area of activity. About 500 metres long and with an area of 5,000 square metres, the Upper Ki-asu stream is surrounded by vegetable and coffee plots and the effort is to rehabilitate the stream area.
Water used to flow through this channel but this has since dried up. Seeing the potential value of the stream to provide water for animals, for the surrounding environment, and most of all for the downstream needs, the youth started in 2012 to clear the riverbank.
Grass and other vegetation that suffocate young seedlings of trees also tend to burn in the dry season. So the youth planted giant bamboo and other hardwood species to serve as buffer and to facilitate groundwater recharge. The outer area is planted with cassava, sweet potatoes, and abaca that serve as their sources of food and for livelihood materials.
However, due to the lack of maintenance and with animals passing through the area, many seedlings were lost. With this, the group decided to assign one youth to manage the area. It is envisioned that if the area is well managed and the initiative is followed through and sustained, water will flow again in the river in 10 years. In this way, the community may be able to increase their water source and potential for ecological services.
With this support from the Flights for Forests, the youth undertook a series of activities that involved site preparation, site clearing, site rehabilitation and maintenance, and documentation and monitoring. Around 200 giant bamboo seedlings were planted, along with 700 lauan (Shorea sp) and other indigenous hardwood tree seedlings. A nursery area was also established and 80% of the area is under regular maintenance.
A recording system for monitoring and documentation is also set up and regular meetings with the Tribal Council are scheduled so that the youth report the progress of their activities. The youth also run on-site workshops where they share their assisted natural regeneration practices with youth from other Pulangiyen villages along the Upper Pulangi watershed.
Thus, in a short span of time, better protection for the remaining forest is animated through the various rainforestation activities of the youth groups in these forest areas. The methods and activities are simple and cost-efficient, but the quality of the environmental and social impact is providing a better and sustainable environmental rehabilitation option than just tree planting, and there is greater social cohesion in the community as the youth are able to relate with their land and forests and communicate this relationship as well to their elders.
The Flights for Forests program is identifying sites to support in other forest-community sites in the Asia Pacific as an effort to explore collaboration as Jesuit institutions in the region. At the same time, if there are other efforts outside the region wishing to participate or be further informed, this is also encouraged. Please go to the website for information on how to join and participate or email Ms Iris Legal at firstname.lastname@example.org.