Reforestation of the Philippines, acting now

As the new academic year gets underway, Into life shines a spotlight on an original initiative proposed by the House of Representatives of the Philippines: every student from reception class through to higher education should plant one tree per year, as a rite of passage to graduation. Having lost 75% of its forests in a century, the archipelago is placing reforestation on the national agenda and making it a key focus.

Plant your tree first!

This is what the government is urging its young people to do, since they are the population most affected by the consequences of deforestation. Voted in on May 25 by the House of Representatives and brought before the Senate, the initiative concerns 12 million students leaving primary education each year, 5 million leaving high school and 500,000 college and university graduates. This amounts to a potential 17.5 million trees planted each year.

The draft bill reads “Academic institutions are the ideal setting to advocate ethical and sustainable use of natural resources by young people in order to ensure they grow up to be socially responsible and aware citizens.”


Biodiversity and populations under threat

The facts are extremely worrying: according to the Philippine Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), the surface area of the country’s forests declined dramatically in one century, from 21 million hectares in 1900 – covering 70% of the country’s land mass – to 5.5 million in 1999, just 18% of the land mass! The problem escalated between 1990 and 2005, with 32% of the remaining forest destroyed due largely to illegal logging.

In addition to the obvious loss of biodiversity, a study into the decline of the Philippine forests published in 2011 by the ESSC (Environmental Science for Social Change) Institute demonstrated how deforestation increases the vulnerability of certain populations. Lack of forest cover effectively accelerates soil erosion caused by typhoons and the result is that half of the country’s agricultural land is now unworkable, thereby leading to food insecurity. Deforestation is also giving rise to an exodus of the indigenous populations who, deprived of their income from use of the forest’s natural resources, are leaving their ancestral way of life behind and heading for the country’s towns and cities. This is disastrous for the country’s cultural diversity.

Legislate to reforest

This is not the first time that the Philippines has legislated on this issue. In 2012, the Arbor Day Act stipulated that “all Filipinos in full possession of their faculties, aged twelve and over, should plant one tree every year.” However, the results of this initiative were never properly assessed. The new law will supersede the Arbor Day Act. This time, the authorities appear determined to see their goal through by making the planting of trees by students part of the national educational curriculum. CNN Philippines reports that government organizations will be charged with creating nurseries, growing plants and identifying and preparing the sites to which the plants will be transported (mangroves, protected areas, old estates, civil or military reserves, towns and cities, etc.). Indigenous species will be favored.