Almaciga: Lighting up lives in Governor Generoso (Second of Three Parts)

Valuable but endangered

GOVERNOR GENEROSO, Davao Oriental (MindaNews/07 August) – An evergreen large tree of the Araucariaceae family, almaciga grows up to 65 meters in most Philippine forests and mountain ridges. Its diameter can reach two meters at breast height and has a smooth, gray bark, sometimes brownish with flaky skin.

Vice Mayor Orencia, citing a research by Fr. Rolando Syman, said almaciga resin from the Hamiguitan mountain range was a major product of the Mandaya-Manobo Lumad of the place with the Dutch East India Company in its East Indies trade. The priest also pointed out the jackpot in trading was the tiger or amber colored resin, which is the fossilized exude buried underneath the roots of dead almaciga trees.

That foreign traders came to buy almaciga resin wasn’t surprising because it serves as a raw material for varnish, paint, sealing wax, caulking boats, shoe polish, floor wax, linoleum and other finished products.

Training on proper tapping techniques. Contributed photo

Orencia, quoting Dr. Heidi Gloria, a local historian based in Ateneo de Davao University, said almaciga trading declined at the twilight of the Spanish occupation. Gloria attributed the decline to improper and unsustainable resin harvesting practices which damaged the trees.

In a paper, Arsenio Ella and Emmanuel Domingo of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Forest Products Research and Development Institute noted that although almaciga resin, known in international trade as Manila copal, is considered a minor forest product, it is one of the country’s important dollar earners. From 1998 to 2008, for instance, the Philippines exported an average of 235,000 kg of resin valued at US$202,000 to France, Germany, Japan, Spain, China and Switzerland.

Indonesia, however, has overtaken the Philippines as the leading exporter of almaciga resin as far as volume is concerned due to destructive tapping practices, Ella and Domingo said.

“In the island province of Palawan, known to be the source of high quality almaciga resins in the country, many tapped almaciga trees are not expected to last for another 5 to 10 years because of unscrupulous harvesting methods used by resin tappers who are indigenous people. They deep tapped, over-tapped and frequently re-chipped, causing extensive wounds through which wood rotting organisms can enter and colonize the trees. This resulted to decrease in the production of almaciga resins and ultimately death of the trees,” the authors said.

To prolong the life of almaciga trees they proposed educating tappers in the biology of resin production and scientific tapping techniques, and regulating harvest through permits and strict rules to avoid the old practice of extracting resin that caused the death of trees.

“Preventing the premature death of the almaciga trees can help alleviate global climate change brought about by the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the longer the almaciga trees are preserved in the forest, the better they can contribute in the global effort to remedy climate change,” they added.

The destructive tapping practices, in addition to logging, have made almaciga an endangered species. Philippine law now prohibits the cutting of the tree, limiting its use to resin production subject to permission by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

To ensure project sustainability, a full inventory of almaciga trees in Governor Generoso that may be tapped was done in 2012 through the Biodiversity Partnership Project (BPP) funded by the Global Environment Facility. The inventory counted 106,532 standing trees, of which 71,388 were “tappable”. Moreover, the DOST – Forest Products Research and Development Institute provided training on proper tapping techniques. Only those who completed the training, from the lecture to field demonstration which they needed to pass, were given certifications as tappers.

Orencia said they have tapped researchers from UP Los Baños, DENR and other institutions to study the conditions best suited to almaciga such as elevation, soil type and temperature.

He said almaciga that grows 300 meters above sea level or higher produces a fragrant resin, the kind mixed with incense used by priests during masses. “The higher the elevation, the better.”