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God, bamboo and Filipinos

Some say that God had Filipinos in mind when He gave us bamboo.

At this crucial time, it can address our difficult situation, as well as the less admirable tendencies of some of our fellow citizens.

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Why does our situation today call for action on bamboo? It is because of our depressing deforestation. In 1900, our forest cover was 21 million hectares. It dropped to 12 million hectares in 1960. Today, 60 years later, it dropped by more than half to 5.7 million hectares.

The disastrous effects of deforestation, according to the Food Agriculture Organization, are: “climate change, desertification, soil erosion, flooding and increased green house gases in the atmosphere.” For Philippine agriculture, soil erosion results in depleted nutrients, lower crop yield and food insecurity.

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The biggest deforestation cause identified is illegal logging. Some also blame kaingeros with their slash-and-burn agriculture, which they do because they have no other livelihood opportunities. In our deforestation initiative we must provide these opportunities.

Reforestation woes

The government is trying its best. But it is hampered by certain factors, many of which it is overcoming today. For example, from 2015 to 2018, instead of increasing the area for reforestation, we saw significant decreases in areas planted: 2015-360,000; 2016-284,000; 2017-202,000 and 2018-133,000. We do not even know if the trees that were planted actually grew, or were just left to die after the photo shoots. Fortunately, this is finally being monitored now.

What does bamboo have to do with this? It is the ideal product for many Filipinos today, because it squarely meets our sad situation, while at the same time addresses some of our tendencies.

One tendency of many Filipinos is to shun difficult preparatory work. For reforestation, one has to look for fertile land, analyze its composition, determine what kind of tree is most suitable, look for the correct sources and create a solid support plan with sufficient budget for the trees’ sustainable development.

For bamboo, most of these are unnecessary. It takes root even in land that is not fertile. Besides, bamboo is not a tree, but a grass. Other trees have trouble surviving because cogon overcomes them. Only bamboo can overcome cogon, so it survives where other trees do not. This is done without follow-up or supervision.

Another tendency we have is to want quick returns. Bamboo matures in just three years. An average cane may live up to 25 years, but a bamboo grove can last for a hundred years or more. You can get returns after only three years. Better yet, you can get returns every year after that.

Another tendency is to want to invest as little as possible. The investment in planting bamboo is far less than in other products. After the first investment, the maintenance cost is minimal.

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Priority as high-value crop

So what can be done for bamboo to develop faster? We must first recognize and appreciate the steps our government is taking. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is devoting an unprecedented share of its National Greening Program to bamboo. Last year, the Department of Agriculture listed bamboo as a high-value crop, which means it will now get higher priority attention and more resources. Most importantly, many local government units have committed to allocate part of their new additional Internal Revenue Allotment from the Mandanas-Garcia Supreme Court ruling for bamboo development.

Why not? One can implement a multiyear program for people (including kaingeros) to earn immediate income from planting bamboo starting in the first year, and every year thereafter with more and more bamboo planting. The good news is that those who planted during the first year can go back to those initial bamboos and get additional income from them every year thereafter. In the meantime, more people can join undertaking the same long term income-generating cycle.

The imperative now is to have an excellent roadmap that meets global standards. This includes area-specific supply and value chains, such as the ones submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry costing P10 million to P35 million each, some of which I have seen and commissioned. It should be implemented by a public-private sector team, with Congress to address the budget aspect. This way, the bamboo which God gave us to address our current situation and some of our unique tendencies, will result in increased income, improved agriculture and an enhanced environment.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: bamboo, deforestation, Reforestation
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