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Reforestation in the Philippines (Part 1)

In the mountainous Benguet province of the Philippines, farmers grow up to three crops of vegetables a year. Their mountain vegetable farms exist at the expense of original forest cover, causing tremendous erosion difficulties. To counteract erosion and preserve the watershed as well as promote reforestation, the Philippine government issued a mandate: farmers must find alternatives that restore the watershed or lose their land.

Reforestation

Rice terraces in the Philippines

An Agroforestry Alternative

Loreca Stauber is no scientist, but she loves Benguet, and a letter from her friend, a scientist living in the Philippines, inspired her with the vision of teaching farmers to reforest the mountains and grow vegetables amongst the trees.  

Her friend writes, “We envision mountain farms as forest ecosystems whose primary social responsibility to the communities around and below is to be part of responsible watersheds that court, catch, store and gradually share water. We see mountain farms that are not prone to soil erosion or leaching: cultivated with minimal chemical inputs and tillage that will allow the natural buildup of biomass, organic matter, helpful organisms and fauna. We think of forest ecosystems that may not make millionaires of its farmers for one generation and heavy debtors even before the next. Rather, we envision forest farm ecosystems that are self-sufficient and self-sustaining. We are working on demonstrating forest ecosystems that can substitute for monocrop vegetable farms that deplete and leach the soil, pollute watersheds and are self-destructing.”  

Realizing the problem in the Philippines could be solved by reforestation, Loreca emailed Dr. Anthony S. Davis, Tom Alberg and Judi Beck Chair in Natural Resources in the University of Idaho’s Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences.  The U of I operates a 100 year old nursery specializing in growing hardy tree seedlings.  Dr. Davis recalls, “The email she sent me said, “I think you should do something about this,”  and I thought, “Actually I agree. I think we should do something about this.  So we began to screen the idea, asking: are there partners?  Is it a good idea?  Does it fit with this little thing that we do really well, which is essentially teaching people how to grow tree seedlings, and is there an educational component that’s valuable for our students?  When those check boxes lined up, then it was a matter of taking advantage of that opportunity and seeing where it could go.”

Reforestation

Forested mountains in the Philippines

Determining What Already Works

Together, they and other partners started a program in which U of I students went overseas to teach the people of Benguet how to grow trees, with the goal of moving the land toward agroforestry.  They wanted to grow a forest ecosystem (trees, shrubs, and ground cover) along with annual crops.  Kea Woodruff, former U of I Nursery Production and Logistics Associate, now at Harvard University, travelled to the Philippines with an interdisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate students to look at what agroforestry projects were already working and to conduct a needs assessment.    She says, “I saw a wide variety of landscapes in the areas that we were.  One woman decided on her own that she was going to practice agroforestry, and people come and view her land as a demonstration site. It has mature bamboo, coffee trees, and mature Benguet pine. It really looks like what you would expect the native forest to look in an area like the Philippines.”

Kea said there were also intermediate sites where there are Benguet pines and some coffee with row crops blended in, such as strawberries and squash.  She adds, “There’s clearly great potential to grow different species on these lands if we can help figure out the best way to use the resources that are available.”

Next week: Learn how partners in the project have been able to use native resources in the quest to reforest erosion-plagued Benguet.

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