Forests comprised 57 percent of the Philippines’ total land area in 1934 according to the 2015 publication by the Philippine Senate, Philippine Forests at A Glance.
In 2010, the Philippines’ forest cover dropped to only 23 percent or about 6.8 million hectares. The publication attributes this decline to increased agricultural and housing needs, intensified commercial and illegal logging, kaingin, and forest fires.
As of March 2015, 1.01 million hectares or 85 percent of the target forest area for reforestation have been planted with 602.7 million seedlings. Although, the number of seedlings planted is way below the target level. On the average, 593 trees per hectare have been planted through the NGP.
Adding insult to injury, the survival rate of the seedlings planted has been below the target as well. The NGP expected an 85 percent survival rate, but according to the 2013 Audit Report of the Commission on Audit (COA), the survival rate of seedlings was noted to be only 68 percent.
To produce the number of seedlings that the NGP needs to provide its reforestation partners, the DENR and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) has recently agreed to put up a Mechanized and Modernized Forest Nursery.
The Mechanized and Modernized Forest Nursery (MMFN)
According to Dean Willie P. Abasolo of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources, the Mechanized and Modernized Forest Nursery (MMFN) will be able to contribute to the National Greening Program (NGP).
A component of the Integrated Research and Development Grant for High Value Forest Crops (IRD-HVFC) program of the DENR, the MMFN aims to promote the science-based development of forest lands through the establishment and management of high value tree plantations as well as other forest crops. With funding and guidance of the DENR, the MMFN’s specific role is to supply the seedling requirement of Region 4-A and ensure increase in seedling survival rates.
To be located on a 3-hectare land behind the Agriculture Machinery Testing and Evaluation Center (AMTEC) building at UPLB, the MMFN facility will be built as an automated nursery.
During the groundbreaking ceremony and the signing of Memorandum of Agreement between DENR and UPLB last 7 June 2016, UP President Alfredo E. Pascual expressed awe in how with just the simple push of a button, one can produce seedlings.
The MMFN works like a simple machine, with switches the can control all of the nursery’s operations. And unlike in traditional nurseries, the environmental conditions of the MMFN are more controllable. Environmental factors such as temperature, relative humidity, and amount of moisture can be adjusted automatically.
MMFN facilities also save time and energy because these are less labor-intensive. Aside from this, MMFN is more efficient compared to traditional nurseries because it has the capacity to produce more seedlings in less time.
In a message read by DENR Undersecretary for Environment and International Environmental Affairs Atty. Jonas R. Leones during the ceremony, former DENR Secretary Ramon JP. Paje said that the project will enhance the production of planting materials which will be used in the succeeding reforestation programs.
“This facility will be able to supplement the nurseries in 25 partner state universities that serve as our lifeline of planting stocks. The proximity of these nurseries to our NGP planting sites is an advantage. A shorter transport will ensure high survival of seedlings,” he added.
Dr. Abasolo also remarked on the project’s goal, “In the forestry sector, we need to improve the quality of our planting stock in order to produce good quality trees – trees that will survive. Of course, with a high survival rate in our nurseries, we would be able to eventually improve our forest.”
He added that one of the major problems the government is currently facing is climate change. He believes that the most practical thing to do is to start resolving the root cause. Through replenishing and regreening denuded areas, viable forests can be achieved in the future. He is convinced that the mitigation of climate change, and of course lessening of disaster risks, will eventually follow.
Choosing the perfect tree
Dr. Abasolo emphasized that propagating and reproducing indigenous tree species in the MMFN is the priority. However, he intimated that the project cannot do away with planting exotic tree species because indigenous trees are slow-growing.
Although the ultimate goal of the project is to help replenish the forest, it does not mean that the trees grown out from the nursery will not be harvested in the future. “Eventually, we will need to harvest them too. Hence, the economic value of the tree species is also a factor to look into in choosing the perfect tree to plant,” Dr. Abasolo pointed out.
“Imagine, you will plant trees which you will have to wait for 20, 30 years. Just to find out in the end that the lumber to be harvest has little value. E ’di sayang lang. Therefore, when you plant trees, also choose those that are very marketable,” he added.
Apart from its goal to supply seedlings required by the NGP, the MMFN will also serve as a research laboratory for students. The MMFN will not only be a structure for seedling production but an avenue for teaching, too. Similarly, for the research components, the College targets to mentor several students as well.
Dr. Abasolo is very much hopeful for the success of the MMFN. Aside from having an allocation for maintenance of the MMFN coming from the DENR’s annual budget, a grant of PhP 5 million will also be given to the college to conduct researches aligned with the research agenda of DENR.
“This is a good example of convergence and a good collaboration between two government agencies--UP and DENR working towards a common goal. The partnership will always work as long as there is cooperation, support, and focuse on the objectives we want to fulfill,” Abasolo ended.
As President Pascual has put it during the groundbreaking, “We are all of the same blood trying to get together to produce an important facility which will truly serve the needs of the nation.”