BY August, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 will begin producing seedlings from its P80-million mechanized nursery in Ayungon, Negros Oriental to meet its goal of restoring over 280,000 hectares of timberland in the province.

Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office Officer-in-Charge Charlie Fabre of Negros Oriental said they expect the seedling bagging machine to arrive in July and have the system operational by August.

The delivery of the bagging machine will signal the start of operations of the 9.4-hectare nursery compound in Barangay Banban, which houses two greenhouses.

Output

The mechanized nursery is expected to produce up to 20 million seedlings in six months.

The nursery is part of the DENR 7’s implementation of the National Greening Program (NGP), which aims to reforest timberland areas and restore Philippine biological diversity.

Biological diversity or biodiversity refers to all life forms that live in an ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem supports a rich biodiversity. Deforestation is a major threat to survival of native plant and animal life, and a contributing factor to other environmental problems, like global warming and climate change.

Aside from bringing back the country’s biodiversity, the NGP aims to expand forested areas that absorb greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Fabre said that the first type of seedlings to be processed at the nursery would be that of mangium trees, an exotic species that he described as “nursing” trees for native tree species.

DENR 7 Executive Director Isabelo Montejo noted that nature conservationists are against the planting of exotic tree species in timberland areas.

But he said that the mangium, which grow fast, will prepare the soil in denuded timberlands for the planting of native tree species.

In the uplands of Sta. Catalina, south of capital Dumaguete City, cogon grass grow in denuded timberland areas.

“The mangium is nitrogen-fixing so it would restore nutrients to the soil. It would also supress the cogon grass to pave the way for native dipterocarp (trees) to grow,” said Montejo.

Nursery

DENR 7 also mantains a nursery of dipterocarp species, like lauan and molave, which are karge trees that grow up to 70 meters tall.

Fabre said that the dipterocarp seedlings will grow faster if planted under the shade provided by the canopy of mangium trees.

“We have seedlings of 17 dipterocarp tree species (in Ayungon). Some of them come from wildings taken from existing forests,” he said.

Montejo said that they have adopted the practice of assisted natural regeneration, which involves making the soil favorable for native plants to grow.

“The original vegetation will grow back. We just have to make the area favorable. One way is to get rid of the cogon that prevents seeds and seedlings from growing,” he said.

He also said that once the forest grows back, the biological diversity in the area will be restored.

To make the program sustainable, Montejo said that the DENR has partnered with local communities.

“The program also provides livelihood to partner farmers,” said Montejo.

Fabre said that the nursery in Ayungon will generate 500 to 1,000 jobs once fully operational.

Through a community-based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA), people’s organizations are tasked with planting tree seedlings.

Fabre admitted that introducing the project to the community was a challenge as residents were afraid their farm lots would be converted to forests. He said that the farmers cooperated when they saw the benefits of the project.

“When we started, we were closely watched. But we eventually got their trust,” he said.

In the past, members of the armed New People’s Army were known to roam the mountains of Sta. Catalina.

The NGP is also gradually changing the mindsets in the uplands of southern Cebu.

Hermes Españo of Barangay Cabadiangan in Oslob town said that trees are important to their water sources, which are underground springs.

Españo is a member of the Tumalog Daanglungsod Cañang Upland Farmers’ Association Inc., which has a CBFMA to reforest more than 1,453 hectares in Oslob. The group’s forest guards include a farmer who was blamed for a fire that razed a portion of the NGP project site earlier this year.

Montejo said that the farmer, who admitted having accidentally caused the fire, offered to work as a forest guard, whose duties include firefighting.