During our 20 years we lived and worked in Asia, one of the most worrisome things we observed was the deforestation. Unlike my home in the USA that was approximately 80% covered in forests, when we were in the Philippines in 1983, there just weren’t many trees covering the countryside at all. In fact, almost all of the mountains and surrounding lands that we saw were being farmed or covered in a tall grass called “cogon.”
Later we learned that the majority of the country had been deforested with only a small handful of forest “patches” remaining. The reasons were varied and complicated. Some people blamed it on illegal loggers from previous decades. Others wanted to blame the indigenous (tribal) people living in the uplands and their slash-and-burn farming systems. One obvious issue was the growing population and shrinking land availability per family. The Philippines total land area is about the size of my two “home” states of Tennessee and Kentucky, but their population is almost 1/3 of the US total population (over 100 million people). That’s a lot of people vying for finite resources.
Several attempts by the government, international agencies, and local non-government organizations had been made to “reforest” the country, but most failed miserably. Forced replanting didn’t work because people needed the land to grow food for their families. Incentive programs didn’t work for basically the same reason.
In some incentive programs, farming communities were paid to plant so many trees per year. In some places, they would plant them, collect the money for their work, burn them off before the next rainy season, and approach the program leaders for more trees to plant and more money to be given in order to plant the same areas they planted the year before.
At the MBRLC, our leadership and Filipino team members had a different approach. Instead of asking communities to plant 100 acres of trees, ask 100 farmers to plant one acre each. If farmers could see the value of growing and making use of the trees for food, income, farm construction, etc., they could become champions of small-scale reforestation. They would no longer be a part of the problem, but part of and catalysts for a solution.
Working with farmers and farming communities, the MBRLC staff and team helped develop a sustainable, upland agro-forestry (agriculture plus reforestation) program. It concentrated on sustainable food production but also expanded their farm enterprise to include trees: trees that could give food (fruits and food-stuffs like chocolate, coffee, etc.), trees that could quickly supply renewable fuelwood (a big issue for deforestation since most upland communities cooked with firewood), and trees that could provide short, medium, and long-term income to the farm families.
Our MBRLC team developed, promoted, and implemented with hundreds, if not thousands, of farm families what we called Sustainable Agro-Forestry Land Technology (or SALT 3). It was basically a SALT system of good, sustainable food production through sound, hillside farming techniques with an agroforestry component composed of short term species , medium term species , and long term trees/forestry products.
Each species fulfilled a specific objective.Fast-growing bamboo could be used for everything from house construction to animal pens. Others would be commercial plants like coffee and cacao. Still others could be used for light construction or sold for income. There were even “retirement” fund species planted, such as highly valuable teak and mahogany.
If you would like to know more about SALT 3 and small-scale reforestation, please drop us a note and let us know. We would be happy to send you more information on the topic.