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Bringing back the trees to Sierra Madre

The slopes of the Sierra Madre mountain range—that traditionally protect northeastern Luzon provinces from the ravages of strong typhoon winds and excessive flooding—have given way to farmlands if not to grasslands and shrubbery.
Echague Isabela
And here lies the problem: Without considerable forest cover, these slopes are no longer capable of absorbing enough rainwater. The excess rainwater eventually ends up in streams and rivers, causing them to overflow affecting communities along the banks.

Bring back trees

“We need to bring back the trees. This is the only way to prevent the flooding and landslides that we now experience every time there’s a heavy rain or storm,” pleaded Isabela project manager Luis Caraan of Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas-World Wildlife Fund-Philippines.

But considering the overwhelming task of bringing back the forest cover to its original state as well as convincing communities to stop cutting trees or convert mountain slopes into farmlands, Caraan and the KKP-WWF-Philippines decided for the next best solution.

The group has initiated an agroforestry project wherein it will find ways to get funding to acquire fruit-bearing treelings, teach communities how to be stewards of these trees as well as how to use earn money from them.
Considering the project site is part of the 300,000-hectare Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, regarded as the largest remaining swath of old-growth rainforest in the country, the KKP-WWF-Philippines also initiated an ecotourism training programs where former illegal loggers and log haulers were given new jobs as resort stewards.


To formally initiate the project, Isuzu Philippines Corporation (IPC), together with a group of motoring media, headed to Barangay Villa Imelda in Ilagan, Isabela to turn over more than 6,000 treelings (2,267 mango and 2,180 Japanese Satsuma citrus), including organic fertilizer.

IPC President Ryoji Yamazaki, during the turnover ceremony, explained that the company, in celebration of its 14th year of operation here in the Philippines, goes beyond the simple donation of treelings.

“Saving what remained of the forest and planting new trees require a concerted effort from everybody. Even an automotive company like us should join. In this regard, we went ever further by providing assistance to a program that will educate local farmers and their families how to generate adequate income from these new trees without resorting to small-scale logging or charcoal production. Eventually, they will become part of the solution that would prevent the complete destruction of forest cover,” Yamazaki said.

40 hectares

The project will cover 40 hectares of agro-forestry land and according to Ilagan town Mayor Josemarie Diaz, this will benefit more than 130,000 household of Barangay Villa Imelda as well as the families of more than 100 Ifugao tribe farmers living in Sitio Pulang Lupa and Sitio Coop; and members of Villa Gracia Agroforestry Developers Cooperative.

“The families, especially here in Barangay Villa Imelda, rely on the river for freshwater supply and irrigation of their rice and corn fields. But whenever there is heavy rain, the water coming from the mountains—now almost barren because of years of—heads straight to our river. Sometimes it overflows, like this last storm, inundating everything from infrastructure to croplands,” related the barangay chairman Cesar Aban.

The province of Isabela is the primary rice and corn granary of Northern Philippines. The province relies on ecological services provided by watersheds of the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park whose forests are important for life-support functions.

Yamazaki explained that to make tree-planting efforts a lot more effective, the need to educate involved communities is crucial. “We need to instill to these families the long-term effect of their actions. The thousands of seedlings we have donated may never be enough but they are a good start for these families wanting to have a much better future.” - Inquirer
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