ASIDE from illegal logging, agricultural expansion in upland areas has become a threat to the forests in Negros Island Region (NIR), an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

Al Orolfo, officer-in-charge regional director of DENR-NIR, said the illegal logging situation in the region is not alarming since both Negros provinces are not among the 14 hotspots in the country.

During the recent aerial inspection conducted by the agency, Orolfo said that some forest areas have been utilized for agricultural expansion, mainly for planting of various commodities.

“We need to sit down with the local government units and agencies like the Department of Agriculture and Department of Agrarian Reform to discuss the limit in doing agricultural activities,” Orolfo said, stressing that “we cannot just allow excessive agricultural expansion.”

He pointed out that there are production, and restricted, or protected forests.

The latter is the “no-go zone” while production forests are those that can be used for crop production provided it has sustainable framework plan for the area, Orolfo added.

By virtue of Letter of Instruction No. 1260, DENR under the Integrated Social Forestry (ISF) program started the distribution of certificate of stewardship contract (CSC) in 1982.

In Negros Occidental, the Provincial Environment and Management Office (Pemo) has recorded 8,688 CSC holder-beneficiaries, covering about 23,951 hectares.

Luisa Tutor, upland management coordinator of Pemo, said the province’s implementation of ISF program is anchored on the massive reforestation initiative of DENR.

Under the ISF program, the CSC holder may utilize only 60 percent of the total area awarded for production of major agricultural commodities like rice, corn, and high-value commercial crops including vegetables, which are mainly for livelihood and source of food.

The remaining 40 percent should be devoted to agro-forest development to be planted with trees as well as bamboos, coffee, cacao and other fruit trees.

“We are regularly conducting evaluation among holders to ensure compliance of rules and guidelines in availing the privilege given by the government,” Tutor said.

Pemo noted that there are already cancelled and revoked CSCs due to violations of farmer-holders like burning and cutting of trees, and selling and leasing of awarded lands subject for renewal every 25 years.

Most violators were from CSC sites such as Silay City, and Salvador Benedicto and Calatrava towns, Tutor said.

The program is aimed at helping farmers alleviate their status of living, and at the same time promote protection and conservation of environment, she added.