TURNING POINT: Plant and Forget

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/03 October) — Rallying thousands of hands to plant simultaneously millions of trees within an hour across a vast tract of land is no small feat to any organizer. Yet this is what the Mindanao Development Authority (MDA) dared and accomplished on Friday, 26 September 2014.

On that day, from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m., 189, 755 volunteers from all walks of life planted 3,517, 489 seedlings of various tree species across 260 locations in Mindanao. The feat was done in cooperation and close coordination with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the local governments units (LGUs), the academe and other sectors of society in Mindanao. The massive tree planting project was dubbed “TreeVolution: Greening MindaNOW.”

The search for long term solutions to the increasing frequency of disastrous floods in Mindanao spurred the mass environmental action. It was pursued under the government’s National Greening Program (NGP).

Among others, TreeVolution aimed to get into the Guinness Book of Records of most planted trees in an hour by eclipsing India’s record of 1,945,535 trees planted by 340, 200 participants in 406 locations on 15 August 2011.

The strategy of aiming for a world record in attracting participants to the tree planting project was proven very effective. Despite some complaints on logistic support, long exhausting walks in some locations, sudden change in planting venues due to the impassability of target sites, and reports on some participants who fainted or were injured in activity areas, many volunteers claimed it was fun and the whole exercise was worth it. Despite lapses and all, the magnitude of the event remained truly impressive.

But after the big planting event, what’s next?

The organizers, as reported (MindaNews, 01 Oct), have indicated to hold forums in schools to draw out reflections on the activity from the students, the greatest bulk of the participants, and communicate to them the next moves to nurture the trees they planted.

Is this serious, the students to nurture the trees they planted? Is it feasible for the students to go back time and again to the mountains to care for the trees the planted?

This is not to douse water to the burning interest and enthusiasm in the project, so much so that it is about to bag a world record. But by the look of it, the project appears to have no comprehensive sustainability plan. Its absence then could be its Achilles’ heel.

If ever the sustainability mechanisms of the project were not considered from the beginning, TreeVolution’s goal and accomplishment may just stop at best at the Guinness Book of Records. It would be no different from many organized group tree planting ventures in the past which amounted to nothing but a plant-and-forget activity. After the planting event, the media attention and now the selfies, nothing else may be seriously done and everything may soon be forgotten.

Like any living things, trees need care, nurture and protection to survive. In fairness to the organizers, it would be very difficult to give attentive care and nurture to millions of seedlings planted across vast, wide and rugged terrains. Such great number of trees planted away from civilization is often left to nature to survive.

Thus the planting day and days or weeks to follow is critical. Assuming that the seedlings were properly planted, they will wilt under the sun and may die in weeks without the mercy of the rain. Or they may be smothered by rainwater, loose soil and debris, and may rot and die within a week of continuous rain. Still assuming that some hardy ones will survive the sun and the rain, the healthier weeds around them will choke them or deprive them of sunlight.

Assuming, further, that the hardiest will be able to compete with the weeds, their survival are still threatened by stray or range animals, kaingin and forest fire.

That may explain why our many hills and forest are still bald and brown despite decades of planting and replanting them over and over again.

So what comprehensive planning are we to talk about given the circumstances above?

A serious plan should consider the favorable time or season of planting; the choice of trees appropriate to the soil and the terrain; the correct way of planting (depth and size of the hole to keep soil moisture for a longer period); information, education and involvement of nearby communities; and the management and protection of the planted trees.

The involvement of the communities near the planting site is crucial if we wish a good number of trees to survive. Breaking the plantation areas into manageable sizes for clusters of families, groups or people’s organizations to handle may facilitate care (watering, weeding and replanting) and protection to the planted trees (from domesticated animals and kaingin fire). Of course, an incentive and reward system for this sustainability arrangement is imperative to help nature in keeping the trees alive. Here, external institutions are needed to encourage, inspire, monitor and support the participating groups or local communities. The social corporate responsibility (SCR) funds of business firms and industries may be tapped for this endeavour.

The DENR and the LGUs may play an important role in forging the social arrangements, alongside with an honest-to-goodness implementation of the forestry law, rules and regulations.

It is never late though for TreeVolution organizers to brainstorm the sustainability dimension of the project if ever it’s not done yet. A late plan or a post-activity plan is better than having no plan at all.

In future massive tree planting activities in large areas, it may be wise to plant carefully chosen seeds rather than seedlings. Many must have noted that seeds blown by the wind from their mother trees usually germinate into sturdy seedlings even in difficult and unlikely locations. They could compete and triumph over the weeds around them, and show greater capacity to bear and withstand the impact of the sun and the rain compared to transplanted seedlings from nurseries.

Planting carefully-screened seeds rather than seedling is less expensive and demands minimum human intervention. The only major concern is the protection of the plantation area from disturbing and harmful human activities. (William R. Adan, Ph.D., was a research and extension worker, professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He was a British Council fellow and trained in 1994 at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, on Participatory Planning and Environmentally Responsible Development. Upon retirement, he served as national consultant to the ADB-DENR project on integrated coastal resource management. He is the immediate past president of the MSU Alumni Association.)

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