The adventures of an amateur tree planter
Tree planting is not just about sticking a seedling into a hole. Like many things in life, the more you learn the more you realise there is to learn. It seems to me the easiest part of tree planting is the first 5 years. Getting the seedling to 6 ft high is a no brainer. Weed the ground, chuck a little manure on it, hire a local to keep an eye on it – it is not, after all, rocket science.
Things get a little complicated when you add in the socio-economic element. When we’ve moved on, when we have completed our feel-good “plant-50-hectares-of-denuded-hills” project, what’s to stop the locals cutting down the whole lot, converting it to fire-wood or charcoal, moving in the livestock to graze and using the land for crop planting? They are a cash strapped, desperately poor people and who can blame them for bettering their lot at the expense of wealthy city dwellers who waltz down on a Sunday morning for a day in the provinces, lecturing them on what they can and cannot do on the land that has nurtured them and their ancestors for as long as they can remember.
I am not convinced that PENRO’s assurance that after our 5 year Memorandum of Agreement has expired they will set-up a locally run cooperative to manage the plantation and control the rate at which the plantation is harvested. It SOUNDS good! And rolls off the tongue very easily however will it work? Why am I not convinced? Because during all the time I have spent with PENRO staff, not once have they given us well thought out direction and guidance as to what species of trees to plant. It has been suggested that we plant only 2 species of trees – but it’s up to us. It would have been so much more reassuring had they presented us with a list of species to plant – perhaps some fruit bearing trees to allow the locals to harvest the fruit after a few number of years. And of course trees that will provide construction timber to allow the locals to harvest and sell timber at a controlled rate… and without doubt several near extinct hard-woods thrown into the mix for future generations. Very little thought has gone into planning the plantation to allow for the forces that will come into play once we have moved on. It seems to me that we have to balance the needs of the locals with that of our own; I want fat girth-ed hard-wood indigenous trees – preferably near extinct ones. Locals want a steady stream of cash and the ability to protect the source of cash from encroaching neighbors. PENRO want to sell seedlings and get them into the ground.
My problem is there is very little immediately accessible information to guide us. Here I am committed to spending $80,000.00 dollars of money I don’t yet have and there are no guarantees that that money will be well spent.
Thankfully Jhoi, our resident Mass Comm. graduate, is here to help. One of her first projects is to try to eek out information from PENRO (any PENRO staff reading this? Please note the word “EEK”). To engage and talk to the local folk about their needs. To talk to RAFI – Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. who have 20 years of experience in the field and to research information on forestry management for small land holdings. There is actually a book by the same title published by the Los Banos Forestry office – however it seems to be more extinct than some of these Philippine hardwoods. In the meantime I have decreed (since I seem to be the one doing the thinking around here – making unilateral decisions with very little knowledge – DECREE is the right word!) that we will plant 30% fruit bearing trees, 40% construction timber trees and 30% near extinct indigenous hard woods. I have also decreed that my future fat-girth-ed-preferably-near-extinct-hard-wood-trees should be grouped together on the steepest most inaccessible part of the terrain so that the locals will leave them alone! God knows whether the terrain is suited for the specie but hey, have to start somewhere. In the absence of a more informed plan this is our way forward. Of course, being oriented around publicizing our folly, we will upload information on species and plans as it becomes available, Indeed Jhoi’s goal is to upload at least 1 blog of interesting well thought out information each week!