By Jonathan L. Mayuga | BusinessMirror
QUICK READ: When private companies like the Energy Development Corporation collaborate with other organizations for greening projects, it can only help the country’s reforestation efforts.
The Energy Development Corporation (EDC), the country’s largest and the world’s second-largest geothermal energy producer, recently celebrated the 12th anniversary of BINHI, the company’s nationwide greening program.
Over the years, the Lopez Group’s global and diversified renewable energy firm was able to accomplish a feat unmatched by any other company in the Philippines.
From 2009 to 2019, EDC was able to plant over 6.4 million seedlings and restored 9,449 hectares of denuded forests inside geothermal reservations and other watershed areas “to leave a legacy of a verdant Philippines for the next generation.”
It all started with the planting of a single tindalo seedling at the heart of the Quezon City Memorial Circle 12 years ago.
From the single binhi, or seedling, taken from the tindalo mother tree that Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon planted on the town plaza of Bacolod City in Negros Occidental on its inauguration as a chartered city on October 19, 1938, Energy Development Corporation’s BINHI Program went on to carry out its mission of planting native trees and covering more areas as possible.
“We realized that it was not enough for us to just plant any random tree seedlings to maintain, if not enhance, the biodiversity in our areas of operation. Beyond this, we knew when we launched this program that BINHI will benefit not only EDC but more so our partner communities and our planet,” Atty. Allan V. Barcena, head of Energy Development Corporation Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Relations group said in a statement.
Realizing the gargantuan task, Energy Development Corporation has partnered with institutions and communities to realize its mission.
Over the years, the company has partnered with a total of 183 institutions in 16 regions and 88 communities for various forest restoration projects.
“It was not easy, but through our constant communication and engagement, we were able to forge a mutual trust that resulted in our farmers’ associations’ transformation,” Barcena told the BusinessMirror via e-mail.
One of its most successful BINHI initiatives is the Baslay coffee program. Three generations of farmers in Dauin, Negros Oriental, through the program operated by the Baslay Farmers Association (BFA), have learned the value and income potential of taking care of the forests.
Baslay’s community forest is now a refuge to 113 species of birds and one of the primary sources of quality coffee (robusta and arabica) in Central Visayas.
More importantly, the former kaingineros (slash-and-burn farmers) are now masters of interplanting coffee with native tree species.
In a telephone interview with the BusinessMirror on January 11, Amerlita D.J. Ortiz, assistant director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), underscored the importance of preserving the country’s native trees and welcomed the initiatives of Energy Development Corporation.
The Philippines has a total land area of 30 million hectares, almost half of which are classified as forest land.
However, only half of the forest land, or approximately 7.5 million hectares, are covered with trees, leaving almost the same area falling under the classification of “open, degraded, and denuded forests.”
With its limited financial and technical capacity, the DENR welcomed private sector support to boost its reforestation efforts.
Food and habitat
“First, native trees [should be used]. When you say native, they are already here in our country. If ever they carry pests or diseases, because they naturally occur here, we can easily address them. Unlike exotic or non-native trees, the pests or diseases can wipe out entire species,” Ortiz said partly in Filipino.
According to Ortiz, there are lots of wildlife species that depend on native trees for food and for habitat.
“If the native trees become extinct, or are wiped out, the source of food for the wildlife is also gone,” Ortiz said.
The advantage of growing native trees cannot be overemphasized, said Tommy T. Valdez, national council president of Society of Filipino Foresters Inc.
In reforestation, forester Valdez said the obvious choice is the use of native tree species.
In a telephone interview on January 11, he said native trees easily survive and grow well in an area where they occur naturally. More importantly, native tree species promote balance in the ecosystem.
“Native trees can perpetuate the existence of other species in a particular area, compared to areas planted with exotic trees, like Mahogany and Gmelina,” Valdez said partly in Filipino.
Exotic threats, natural attracts
Valdez said some exotic trees also release certain chemicals that are not favorable to wildlife.
This, he said, explains why some forest plantations planted with a single tree species do not attract as many insects or birds.
Exotic trees sometimes adversely affect the growth of other native trees in a forest as the trees tend to compete for sunlight, soil nutrients, and even space.
“Because they grow faster, they displace the native tree species” Valdez said.
“Most exotics are invasive. You must not allow them to invade an area,” he said. Native birds, insects, and other wildlife are naturally attracted to native trees, he added.
The use of fast-growing trees, such as Mahogany and Gmelina, have their purpose as far as the Philippines is concerned, Valdez said.
“Some native trees cannot survive directly under direct sunlight like the dipterocarps, so some foresters use fast-growing trees like Mahogany and Gmelina to establish the initial cover crops,” he said.
Once the fast-growing trees are able to provide enough shade and improve the micro-climate that would allow native trees to grow and thrive, after some time, the fast-growing trees must eventually go or be cut down, he said.
Private sector support
Given the government’s limited financial capacity, the private sector should be encouraged to come in.
“First, we don’t have that much money to sustain or maintain the planted trees until they are fully grown,” he said. “Most of our reforestation programs, after tree-planting, the sites are eventually left with nobody to maintain the trees.”
He said private sector partners ensure that reforestation of forest plantations are sustained, with the sites having someone permanently protecting the area, nurturing the trees, and at the same time protecting the area from timber poaching or illegal cutting.
Misconception about forestry
Valdez said there are many misconceptions about forestry, a reason why the country is not able to realize its full economic potential.
For instance, some people are not in favor of cutting trees, when, in fact, trees provide much-needed resources that can be replenished through plantation development.
“Let us remember that trees or our forests are renewable. What is bad is the indiscriminate cutting of trees or illegal logging,” he said.
He explained that the Philippines has a tropical rainforest with uneven aged trees, composed of old, mature, young trees, and with a diverse number of tree species.
“In such case, for us to perpetuate the forest, we need to cut the old and mature trees to liberate the growth of the young trees that would become the next timber crops. If not, the old trees will die and the young ones will not be given the opportunity to grow,” he said.
According to Valdez, this is what foresters call “sustained yield cutting.”
“If this was practiced religiously in the past, then we should have never been in a situation where we are now. What we need is to cut trees in a sustainable manner, allow natural regeneration and at the same time plant new ones to take the place of the ones that will be cut down,” he explained.
Valdez, however, was quick to point out that there are areas that cutting of trees should not be allowed. These are watershed areas, declared protected areas, areas with an elevation of 1,000 meters above sea level, and areas with more than a 50 percent slope and river embankment, he told the BusinessMirror via e-mail on January 12.
According to Valdez, partnering with the private sector will allow the government and their development partners to realize the economic potential of forest plantation development, while rehabilitating and managing the degraded forest areas.
“We have a vast tract of forest lands and we need the private sector investment to come in and help us develop and protect these areas,” he said.
This will allow the government to realize revenues from these areas while the private sector gains from such venture, and, at the same time, institute a better strategy in protecting the forest.
“Please note that we have more than 25 million people living in upland areas who have been dependent on the forest lands for survival. Providing them employment and livelihood through plantation development will provide the government reliable partners who will protect the forest from further degradation,” he said.
Sustainable development fund
Valdez said the Society of Filipino Foresters Inc. has proposed to promote sustainable forest development through a financing mechanism and public-private partnerships.
Called Sustainable Forest Development Fund (SFDF), the establishment of the financing mechanism, he said, will provide the much-needed capital investment that could be available to the private sector to do business in forest plantation development.
The SFDF could be made available “through a loan with a reasonable interest.”
Under this scheme, the fund will be rolled out and will be returned back to the government, or to the financing facility that will handle the fund.
The financing scheme is a part of the proposed Sustainable Forest Management Bill that is being deliberated in Congress.
Organize the people
“What the government needs is to organize the people. Once they are into forest plantation development, you will no longer have a problem protecting the forest because they will be the ones going after illegal loggers, or anyone that destructs their source of livelihood,” Valdez said.
The Philippines has an excellent program launched by the government in 1995, the Community-based Forest Management Program, Valdez said.
“If we can focus our efforts and improve it further based on our past experiences in implementing the program, this will provide the key strategy to our problems in forestry,” he said.
Valdez said Filipinos need to rely on the country’s forestry experts who understand the science of forestry to help provide the direction toward sustainable forestry.
“We must leave forest management to experts,” he said.
The Energy Development Corporation (EDC) is a pioneer in generating 100% clean, renewable, and reliable power as an electricity supplier in the Philippines for over 40 years. With power plants all over Visayas and Mindanao, the company is one of the biggest producers of geothermal energy in Asia and is expanding its reach in the international market, allowing it to offer customers affordable energy rates. EDC also strives to provide the best customer service it can to all its clients by having helpful salespeople and easy to understand contracts. Because of all of this, it is poised to become the premier supplier of electricity for the Philippines’ Green Energy Option Program. EDC takes its mission as a renewable energy provider seriously and goes beyond sustainability by investing in programs that enhance the environment and empower its partner communities, thereby fostering regenerative development. The company has also been working toward being carbon-neutral by improving its energy efficiency, as well as implementing various greening projects to ensure that its mission to provide future generations with a better life remains intact.