Tree planting as an innovative solution to broader societal problems
If this program will continue, we will see the return of trees that were lost because of the slash-and-burn farming and charcoal-making practices of IPs.
While the minerals development industry is at the doldrums as it waits for the lifting of the government moratorium on mining, some companies have remained focused on addressing societal expectations for sustainable development. These expectations include mitigating the harmful effects of climate change, maximizing land use, protecting damaged ecosystems, and providing livelihood opportunities to residents of host communities.
One such company, Intex Resources Philippines, Inc., has found an innovative way of effectively meeting these expectations through a tree-planting projectcalled “Livelihood Enhancement through Agro-Forestry” or LEAF. And while initially intended as Intex’s response to government’s call for private sector participation in the National Greening Program, LEAF is now also proving to be an inclusive development mechanism with the active involvement of two sectors that are often sidelined in the pursuits of mainstream society: Indigenous peoples (IPs) and inmates.
Sablayan Penal Colony
In Sablayan Penal Colony in Occidental Mindoro, some 40 minimum-security inmates are being trained under LEAF’s plant propagation program in a total 17-hectare demonstration farm and nursery operated by Intex. In the farm, two rows of rubber trees have been planted, separated by two rows of coffee and banana, respectively.
“This arrangement will eventually develop into a three-canopy agro-forestry plantation,” explains Andy Pestaño, Intex Community Relations and Development Office manager, says. “And since banana and coffee require two years to propagate and rubber four years, early value crops such as sweet potato, cassava and pineapple are planted in between the tree and bush crops in the interim.”
Over at Victoria, Oriental Mindoro, around 500 Mangyan belonging to the SADAKI indigenous peoples organization are implementing the LEAF system in a 55-hectare area provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the National Greening Program.
“Apart from the trees and crops being planted by their inmate-counterparts at Sablayan, our Mangyanspartners in Victoria have included hardwood trees and local crops in the configuration,” Pestaño adds.
“Overall, our partners in the Sablayan Penal Colony and the Mangyans of Victoria have propagated some 200,000 plants. We have likewise planted more than 45,0000 trees over currently a 60-hectare area,” he says.
“LEAF is designed to encourage local farmers to better utilize their land and establish sustainable income, growing over time as more crops reach harvesting age,” says Leo Gamolo, Intex EVP. “Partnership with international off takers for coffee and rubber will ensure local farmers a sustainable income. LEAF has already generated considerable interest among local farmers and other Mangyan indigenous communities. Training sessions are being held at Intex’s facility, even as help in the form of seedling distribution is extended to those who wish to implement the project in their backyards.
“Our partner stakeholders come primarily from the areas where the tree-planting will take place, and since they will be doing the work its only fitting that they reap the benefits of LEAF. As these ecosystems are restored, these trees will provide added security against flooding, erosion and in time will bear fruits that they can sell as well,” Gamolo points out.
Says RamilBaldo, the Mangyan IP chairman of Sadaki: “Overall, IPs involved in LEAF are benefitting tremendously from the program. We were able to plant trees like mahogany and bamboo, as well as fruit-bearing trees like coffee, cacao, lanzones, rambutan, durian, and coconut. We were also able to plant pineapple and cassava which we can harvest earlier. These will be our sources of income while the other trees have not borne fruits yet. The planting of trees will be key to reforestation and to the re-greening of our area. If this program will continue, we will see the return of trees that were lost because of the slash-and-burn farming and charcoal-making practices of IPs).”
Pestaño says LEAF has also brought about other unexpected benefits, particularly to the inmates participating in the project. “They used to receive a token of only one peso per day in the Bureau of Correction’s livelihood and skills training program for those inmates who are set to be released from the Sablayan Penal Colony,” he relates. “With LEAF, the inmates receive a much better pay rate, which enabled many of them to send money to their loved ones for the first time after many years. One inmate was even able to buy a mobile phone so that he could communicate with his family regularly.”
Felix Palgan, a 56-year-old inmate who has extensive experience in rubber farming from his native Makilala, North Cotabato, says he is happy to be able to help and share his knowledge with his fellow prisoners.
“People’s lives will improve here in Sablayan and even in the entire Mindoro because of additional livelihood sources. If the number of rubber farms will increase, more people will be employed. Two families can benefit from a hectare of rubber trees, and if there are intercrops like banana and cacao, that would also mean more sources of food and income. The land is wide and there aren’t many plants and trees in the penal colony and in the whole of Sablayan. The LEAF project can provide a great boost to the improvement of the quality of life of the people of Mindoro.”
“Mining is widely viewed as a disruptive business. Whether it takes place in developed nations or emerging economies, mining activities affect local communities in myriad ways,” Jon Petersen, Intex’ CEO, says. “Given these realities, we put considerable advance thoughts into a range of social issues. This advance planning has had to expand radically in recent years.
“As mining companies often move into remote and poorly populated areas , they find themselves cast in the role of providers of even the most basic community services or of solutions to larger social programs,” Petersen continues. “In addressing expectations for sustainable development, we realize that today mining is as much a social task as it is a technical one—we must do more than ensure appropriate mine safety and environmental controls. We must also actively engage with all stakeholders—especially IPs—at every stage of the mining lifecycle: From exploration, mine development and operation to closure, post-closure and future land use. The LEAF Project is an embodiment of this realization.”
Gamolo stresses Gamolo stresses: “LEAF manifests Intex’s commitment to stay in Mindoro and contribute to its growth and that of its people for the long-term. We believe we can do much more, particularly in the areas of education, health, and infrastructure development, if the Mindoro Nickel Project, which straddles the two Mindoro provinces, will only be allowed to progress. This project is anticipated to become the first refined nickel plant in the Philippines and, with 3 million tonnes of nickel in current global resources, will be the largest deposit in the country.”
Intex recently received a certificate of recognition from Mines and Geosciences Bureau Region IV-B Director Roland de Jesus, for the company’s “continuous support and very satisfactory accomplishment in the implementation of the National Greening of Program of the Administration of President Aquino geared towards poverty alleviation in the countryside and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”