There are few sights quite as sad and depressing as a scarred forest or a denuded hillside. In the uplands of Nueva Vizcaya, the watershed haven of Region II, forests have been exploited to such a degree that flashfloods have occurred in nearby towns. From 86% in the early eighties, Nueva Vizcaya’s forest cover is now down to just 25%.
Amid the damage to rice lands, business establishments and private property, the provincial government under the leadership of Governor Rodolfo Agbayani has sprung into action. It created a TREE that bears seed money for college tuition, enterprises, taxes, fruits of hopes and dreams.
“TREE” is an acronym for “Tree Resources for Education, Enterprise” and legacy. The program is composed of three strategies, each focusing on a clear objective. Its incentive system has encouraged people to plant trees – traditionally viewed as a ceremonial activity with little economic value.
“Tree for Education” or the Children’s Forest Program gives students the right to plant as many as 50 trees and benefit from its resources. The provincial government provides a basket of seedlings while schools set aside a plot of land for their students who voluntarily participate in the program. As an added incentive, the student receives regular donations of school supplies and equipment. Parent and teachers’ associations also receive harvesting rights as guardians of the school’s forest programs.
But the biggest reward is the college fund that will come from the proceeds of trees harvested when they mature. A single Gmelina tree, for example, which is highly in demand for making furniture, can be sold for P5,000 when it matures in five years.
Another component of the program, the “Tree for Enterprise”, has the same characteristic except that its objective is to give participants the right to sell the trees for profit. Students register with the local Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office and the Assessor’s Office to receive a Certificate of Tree Ownership (CTO) that ensures harvesting rights over the trees and their authority to sell them for profit.
“Tree for Legacy”, the third component, provides harvesting rights in protected areas or watersheds. This allows people’s councils, civil society groups and community organizations to enroll in the program and reap benefits.
So far, over 600 hectares have been reforested through the program, with 77 schools involved. About 260,000 trees have already been planted at a cost of P391,075.50. A total of 1,695 individuals and 127 organizations are directly involved in the program.
By 2004, the provincial government envisions a total of 734,875 trees would have already been planted, involving 78 schools and 5,615 individuals.