MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) aims to match the size of forested area in the country with that of denuded areas by 2014, thereby reversing the trend of deforestation since 1990s.
During his agency’s budget hearing on Thursday, August 28, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje explained that in 2010, of the 15.81 million hectares of forest land in the country, 8.97 million hectares or around 57% was denuded while only 6.84 million (43%) was truly forested.
These denuded lands are forests that have been cut down, turned into grassland or, as is the case of the Paoay sand dunes in Ilocos Norte, turned into a desert.
Since the 1990s, denuded forest lands have been larger in area than forested lands. According to DENR data, the hectares of forested land have been increasing since 2010 but have not yet caught up with the hectares of denuded forest land.
The Philippines, with only 24% of its total land area forested, has the second lowest forest cover in Southeast Asia after Singapore. (READ: Illegal logging ‘hotspots’ down by 84% – DENR)
By the end of 2013, forested land was at 7.52 million hectares (47%), while denuded land was at 8.28 million hectares (52%).
But by 2014, with the continued implementation of the National Greening Program (NGP), the DENR aims to at least match forested and denuded land with 50% of each total. Best forecasts show that by the end of the year, the size of forested lands may even be able to overtake the size of denuded lands.
If all goes as planned, forested lands will be 7.95 million hectares (50%) and denuded lands will be brought down to 7.85 million hectares (49%).
The reason for the sunny forecast is the accomplishments of the NGP, the government’s biggest reforestation program that aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares by 2016.
Since it started in 2011, the NGP has been overtaking its target hectares of planted trees, said Paje.
The target this 2014 is to plant 428,000 hectares. As of June, 667 hectares have been planted.
“This may seem small but this is because planting season is during the second semester. The first quarter of the year is for seedling production,” explained Paje.
In 2015, the DENR and its private sector partners for NGP hope to plant trees in another 300,000 hectares.
Boosting efforts to meet these goals is the operationalization of 10 mechanized seedling nurseries in 2015. These nurseries will be able to produce one million seedlings a day and will lower the cost of production to P3 to P4 (US$0.07 to $0.09) from the current rate of P12 ($0.28) per seedling, said Paje.
This is apart from the 22 clonal nurseries already being maintained by the DENR and NGP partners which provide seedlings for NGP.
With the mechanized nurseries, Paje said reforestation is likely to “take a life of its own” because the nurseries would make it so easy for anyone to plant trees.
Another 2015 target is to maintain and protect the 1.03 million hectares of NGP-reforested land.
New “genetically-engineered” species of trees like the Brazilian fire tree also grow significantly faster than other exotic or endemic trees and if added to the program will likely speed up reforestation, said Paje.
The Brazilian fire tree can mature in 3 years compared to some endemic trees which take 10 years to mature, he added.
Room for improvement?
But the NGP has been criticized by environmentalists for favoring exotic trees like gmelina and mahogany at the expense of indigenous Philippine trees like narra and kamagong.
Some peoples’ organizations tapped by DENR as NGP partners have also complained of corrupt practices like the non-payment of DENR for seedlings already produced by the organization or the erroneous reporting of unreforested areas as reforested. (READ: Bulacan forest fires part of a reforestation scam?)
It’s full-steam ahead for NGP despite the almost 11% decrease in the DENR budget for 2015.
From its 2014 budget of P23.34 billion ($534 million), its proposed 2015 budget is only P20.85 billion ($477 million) – smaller by around P2.5 billion ($57.2 million).
But Paje said the reduction was deliberate since the agency had already finished many of its programs and was able to make one-time purchases of equipment like survey vessels for nautical charting and trash boats for the clean-up of Manila Bay. – Rappler.com
Cleared forest image from Shutterstock