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Forest and Landscape Restoration: A Forgotten Imperative?

Today, more and more countries in the world are taking the global movement to restore deforested land to a considerably advance level, compared to the recent decades that passed, where we saw climate change, in turn, gradually manifest as fearsome reality…from a mythical and highly arguable concept many a pragmatist have scoffed at.

Region-wide restoration programs are currently underway, like a country-led initiative to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2020. There’s also an analogous effort in Africa, but more ambitious, aiming for the restoration of 100 million hectares by 2030. And, regardless of where these initiatives are launched, it seems to draw remarkable political support. These gargantuan tasks, however, are not simply driven by mere advocacy, no matter how inspiring. Land restoration, which is practically healing the Earth, demands great forces, and often implemented on a planetary scale But new awareness on the matter just sprouted recently. It seems a particular technique demonstrated a good success rate. And it involves the creation of “plantation forests”.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization defines a productive plantation forest as a “forest of introduced species and in some cases native species, established through planting or seeding mainly for production of wood or non-wood goods.” To optimize their utility, the management of plantation forests, apparently, employs a simple strategy founded on the principle of balance between diverse ecological relationships. Small and medium scale plantations produce wood for cooking and construction, while industrial-sized plantations produce wood for paper-making and construction. Intensive design and management is the key to make plantation forests more useful. Think of it as some form of agriculture…only you grow trees instead of crops.

Plantation forests may bear some pretty good prospects for this country, and pave the way to the recovery of our nation’s severely denuded canopies. But, of course, the drawback would be the prevalent poor management of and the tendency to abuse and misuse any system by most Filipinos…as seen in too many malfunctioning government establishments. As gross negligence is often the cause of a lot of disasters in this country, and with proper practice often overlooked by stewards, commonly due to some bribery activity or the influence of law-breaking and dishonest capitalists who throw their weight around—a huge question mark looms over the sustainability of plantation forests here.

Plantations run the risk of over-sprawling onto neighboring lands and could cause a variety of liabilities to adjacent properties, especially those with existing structures like houses or buildings. Plantations, at times, are also planted as big monocultures, in which case biodiversity suffers. Often, this becomes a source of conflict in land usage, or may even lead to poor soil conditions, degradation of native grasslands, loss of critical habitat of insects…even disease, if things get out of hand. And being a warm, tropical country, the densely spaced plantation can also suddenly just ignite to a huge forest fire. We really could be looking at potential disaster. So, no doubt, there are yet many more challenges to reforestation, besides the actual planting of trees over vast tracts of land.

But rather than be daunted by these challenges, we must realizes the consequences if we do not willfully embark on this mission to rehabilitate our environment. With the government flunking in practically all its duties, and had allowed over the decades the wanton destruction of our natural resources, groping with ceaseless corruption and scandals that illustrate utter ineptness—the odds are really against us. Civil society, therefore, must move, and move definitively, to initiate this effort and make it sustainable. From establishing certification schemes, to promoting community-managed small-scale forestry, to organizing a yearly mass action targeting the reforestation of hundreds or even thousands of hectares of denuded areas—we have to start somewhere. Maybe the best place to start is within ourselves. Restoring the functionality and ecosystem of degraded lands, by increasing the number of trees in the landscape, takes a holistic approach and, if successful, can provide economic, social and environmental benefits—like increasing household income, improving food security, creating new habitat and, of course, rehabilitating our planet. We need to tell ourselves that wanting these is actually tantamount to the survival of our species…along with numerous others. In meditating this, we have to get through our thick skulls that even though planted forests will never replace natural forests, natural forests won’t grow fast enough on their own to cope with the rate of devastation humanity is doing to the natural world.

This coming May, we shall have once again the every-six-years-opportunity to choose a new president to lead this nation in these climacteric times. Who among those vying for the position actually realizes the magnitude of the consequences presented by this pressing issue, should the people of this nation choose right action, wrong action or no action at all? Obviously, none of the past presidents was able to reduce and discourage the extensive denudation of Philippine forests. Will the next president heed this very grave demand and mandate the bureaucracy, the corporate community, farmers and all citizens to act with expediency to effect solutions? He or she should, for it is actually a “must” already at this point. Forest and landscape restoration is gaining significant momentum across the world as a viable and cost-effective solution to address the impacts of climate change, improve rural livelihoods, generate economic outputs, and spur the rehabilitation of the planet. Now, more than ever, is the time this nation acts on this need.

* Published in print version (Voice of the South, Volume 12, Issue No. 12)

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