The country’s premier reforestation program, the National Greening Program (NGP), has turned to science and technology in its bid to rehabilitate the environment and achieve other objectives, foremost of which is to upgrade the lives of people in the uplands.
This time around, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) not only adopts new strategies like social mobilization to engage the entire citizenry in tree planting; harmonization of greening initiatives and provision of incentives like conditional cash transfer (CCT) to eligible peoples organizations, the agency also makes sure that all these efforts shall not be for naught. The NGP has combined the weight of science and technology going for it.
At its early stage, the significance of proper planting site characterization is observed during watershed planning to ensure species-site and market matching of target areas. The NGP recognizes that adherence to this critical stage spells higher percentage of survival and greater productivity when tree species are compatible with soil type, elevation of planting sites and respective climate. DENR technical field men work closely with peoples’ organizations and local government units, as major stakeholders, in the implementation of this fundamental activity.
On the other hand, market matching is another factor that NGP puts premium into to push the livelihood component of the Program and thus reduce the incidence of poverty in the uplands where some five million poor families reside. Now, the appropriate tree species should not only be compatible to sites, they should preferably be species with ready market.
The NGP promotes the use of quality planting materials of indigenous, native and endemic forest tree species for high survival and productivity. While seedlings are normally propagated through seeds, DENR’s Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) has an alternative way of multiplying stock insofar as species with erratic flowering and fruiting characteristic, the ones with long interval of seed years or those with short seed viability like dipterocarp and other demand-driven species are concerned. This is through clonal propagation.
ERDB defines clonal propagation as a tool for tree improvement and establishment of clonal plantations done not only by grafting in the nursery but also by growing small parts of the plant inside a laboratory. Cloned seedlings are ideal for commercial production to attain greater profit for NGP beneficiaries inasmuch as cloning propagates genetically superior quality stocks for timber, fruit production and other economic purposes.
The DENR through the ERDB has established 22 clonal nurseries and has likewise forged memoranda of agreement with 17 state universities and colleges offering forestry courses in order to boost quality seedling production initiatives of the NGP. The ERDB shall extend technical assistance to SUCs for guidance and to ensure compliance to standards and prescribed height and diameter of plantable quality materials.
In addition to observance of proper nursery practices, the NGP promotes organic biofertilizers like Mycorrhizal fungi. Unlike its inorganic or chemical versions that cause pollution and contaminate the soil, forestry experts extol the merits of biofertilizers because they are environment-friendly as they are living microorganisms that enrich the quality of the soil.
Moreover, as part of optimizing land use, NGP planting sites are zoned into production and protection areas with the latter planted with endemic, native or indigenous species while production areas are planted with fast growing forest tree species, preferably indigenous trees.
Tracking planted trees
A national reforestation program as massive as the NGP in terms of coverage and number of target trees – 1.5 million hectares with 1.5 billion seedlings - planted by 2016 calls for an innovative manner of monitoring compliance of implementers. A system to monitor and evaluate accomplishments in the field should be one with minimal margin of human error and ideally be open to public scrutiny.
The implementation of the NGP after the issuance of Executive Order No. 26 on February 24, 2011 called for the harmonization of all tree planting activities in the country and partnership of government agencies under the convergence initiative strategy. The EO likewise rallied the private sector to support the Program.
Under EO 26, the NGP is to be carried out in the following lands of the public domain: forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservations, urban areas, and abandoned mine sites as government’s blueprint for poverty reduction, food security, biodiversity conservation, environmental stability and climate mitigation and adaptation. Owing to the seriousness of Program objectives, the DENR gives premium importance on transparency and accountability in the implementation of activities.
A recurring point of contention as regards government reforestation programs is location of planted trees. Critics are quick to say that plantations are nowhere to be found or that successful reforestation programs are just products of imagination of government public relations officers. Blame this on lack of maps of plantations, an element lacking in government reforestation efforts in the past. There was no way to distinguish that presence of standing trees were the outcome of a reforestation program.
But daang matuwid also leads to rugged terrains and degraded watersheds needing rehabilitation. Whether these sites are in far-flung areas should not be much of a problem now, for the public, that is. First, the NGP employs peoples’ organizations to do tree planting for hard to reach areas; this is part of the livelihood aspect of the program.
Second, a directive was issued this year to all regions on the conduct of actual ground survey of NGP planting sites using Global Positioning System (GPS)-equipped receiver with Geographic Information System (GIS) software alongside the identification of appropriate species considering sites’ physical characteristics. These basic activities under the survey, mapping and planning component are crucial as far as forest development projects are concerned.
The outputs of regions should be GIS-based maps of NGP sites in shape file format which describe points, polylines and polygons with attributes (Wikipedia). These shall then be the database for geotagging, another technology used by the Program.
Owing to the novelty of the technology and inasmuch as no less than the Department of Budget and Management has required the DENR to submit GIS-generated maps of all plantations before the release of the 2013 budget, a training was conducted to introduce the GIS and its use under the NGP to regional program implementers.
Another management tool that is employed in the NGP is the geotagging technology which makes it possible to monitor greening activities even in remote areas and make implementers accountable. Geotagging is in aid of ground validation of accomplishments in the field.
To get the technology off the ground, all the DENR community environment and natural resources office (CENRO) nationwide were provided with a Samsung tablet with Global Positioning System (GPS) feature as hardware requirement. However, a Smart phone or any camera with GPS-feature or a GPS unit with camera can also serve the purpose.
What is geotagging? Technopedia defines geotagging as the process of adding geographical information to various media in the form of metadata. The data usually consists of coordinates like latitude and longitude, but may even include bearing, altitude, distance and place names. Geotagging is most commonly used for photographs and can help people get a lot of specific information about where the picture was taken.
Geotagging can be intimidating to the uninitiated. To level-off with NGP field implementers, a team from the NGP Central Office made the rounds of all the regions to orient field men on the technical aspect of the technology and its usefulness to the NGP particularly in the submission of reports to the Central Office.
The bottom line of the orientation is to teach those in the field how to use Geotagging properly so that plantation accomplishments in respective areas, where ever they are, can now be easily tracked not only by the DENR management but also by the public who may be interested to know developments as regards the NGP. All they have to do is to visit the NGP website and with just some clicks, they are transported to any NGP sites in the country via Google Earth.
So far, the Visayas and Mindanao regional offices of the DENR have undergone the Geotagging training conducted on October 22-26, 2012 at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City. Training has been scheduled on December 4-7, 2012 for DENR CAR, NCR, as well as Region 1 to Region 5.
With innovations introduced into the National Greening Program, it would now be with considerable ease that we can present accomplishments that hopefully are acceptable to the public this time around. With factual reports that can now be viewed by everyone with access to computers and the internet, it would also be with confidence knowing that these are efforts that have undergone much study of experts in the science of forestry.
® Public Affairs Office