TREE planting has always been a practical way to combat climate change as, through the natural process of photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide in the air, as well as other pollutant particulates and in the process produce oxygen.

Different sectors and non-government organizations (NGOs) alike have been doing tree planting activities, most of which with misguided objectives and sometimes devout far less attention towards monitoring the growth and the development of the young trees planted through these tree planting activities.

Some groups plant trees and abandon these to the elements. There are fewer tree-planting activities that actually involve a long term care and monitoring plan of newly planted tree stocks.

With all these in mind, the Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF), a non-government organization based in Central Luzon, has come up with a better and sustainable, as well as financially rewarding approach towards tree planting.

Now, farmers and even ordinary backyard owners can engage in tree planting and earn money in the long run while helping reduce the effects of climate change. But the difference is that KDF demands commitment with its partners to really take care of their trees.

1 Million Fruit Tree project

KDF with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Agriculture (DA) are now responding to the need for alternative livelihood and a more beneficial way of combating climate change through its "1 Million Fruit Tree Project" for Central Luzon.

KDF had initially started distribution of seedlings and had started the formation of nursery stations that have since produced 100,000 certified fruit seedlings. Certified seedlings are preferred in terms of their yield quality.

Their selling point is that farmers can fully maximize the use of their farms by intercropping fruit trees with other high-value crops. This means that while farmers are helping in the initiative to reduce carbon emissions, they are also helping themselves and their farmlands to become more productive. It is tree planting, commercial farming and environmental protection all rolled into one.

KDF President Benigno Ricafort said the planting of a million fruit trees is a 10-year project and seen as a sustainable agricultural initiative for Central Luzon communities and an effective climate change initiative.

It is said that a tree absorbs as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. This meant that one ton of carbon dioxide would have been sequestered by a tree by the time it is 40-years-old. If KDF and its partners succeeded in the planting of one million fruit trees in ten years, these trees would have absorbed 48,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year thereafter. Even if only half of the target would have been planted, it would still mean some 24,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide will be removed from the atmosphere.

Ricafort said the fruit tree project classifies fruit tree distribution according to area. The group is targeting 300,000 for carabao mangoes, 100,000 for rambutan and 100,000 for longkong (a Thailand variety of lansones) in various areas of Central Luzon.

KDF sees the program also as a long-term sustainable development for the agriculture sector here and to develop lands for better agriculture production. The program also aims to establish market support systems for the selling and marketing of the products as well as the public-private-partnership (PPP) models to be utilized.

Climate change resilience

Under the One Million Fruit Tree Project, farmers are urged to use intercropping methods to maximize production. The trees serve a good purpose for the farms, too, aside from filtering air pollution; their root systems are rooted in the soil which helps reduce stormwater runoff.

While farmers are growing their crops and these also absorb carbon dioxide, the newly planted trees take more carbon out of the atmosphere in a longer period. The tree-based intercropping method has also been recommended by the DA as it has been proven effective in mitigating negative environmental impacts from intensive agriculture such as nutrient leaching and greenhouse gas emissions.

KDF Trustee Sylvia Ordonez said tree planting on such a massive scale would greatly impact Central Luzon.

"It is our farmers who suffer when typhoons visit us. During good weather, the average income per hectare is 50,000 per year or 25,000 per cropping," Ordonez said.

Ordonez added that farmers in Central Luzon should be given other options for the use of their lands where they can earn more, such as planting high value crops.

"Alternatively, if we want to encourage them to carry the role of feeding us, government should help them with better climate change resilient technologies and social protection when hit by bad weather," Ordonez said.

KDF, in partnership with the Philippine Coconut Authority and DA-Central Luzon, has also started to plant one million coconuts and inter-crop them with high-value crops like cacao, lanzones, rambutan, durian, achete, tamarind, etc.

Cacao alone gives a farmer additional P150,000 income to what can be earned from one hectare of coconut.

KDF and the PCA have free coconut seedlings for Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Bataan, Zambales farmers as alternative crops for idle lands and backyards.

Another approach to the program is that it encourages backyard owners to plant high-value trees in their vicinity. This ensures that trees planted are tended since backyard owners could see the immediate benefit of growing fruit trees.

Under such an approach, more trees will be introduced in urban areas where they can better sequester carbon emissions. Families in turn would have access to high-value backyard fruits that have long been out of the daily diet of most Filipino families in the urban areas.

However, all these would require time and no small amount of effort for all those who join the program. But for KDF and its other partners in the program, it would not be long now before farmers and backyard owners realize that money indeed grows on trees and that their effort in planting fruit trees has contributed to the global effort against climate change.