Monday, February 22, 2016

(News Feature)Throngs of volunteers plant thousands of trees off Mt. Mayon for Legazpi’s Valentine’s month celebrationText and photo
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Feb. 20 (PNA) -– Throngs of volunteers mobilized by the city government here for its yearly Valentine’s month celebration planted thousands of tree seedlings near the foot of the majestic Mt. Mayon on Saturday.

Dubbed as “Tanim Alay sa Puso (Plant for the Heart)”, which has been institutionalized by the administration of City Mayor Noel Rosal, the annual activity, now on its 10th year, is in line with the local government’s greening program inspired by its commitment to healthy environment and climate change adaptation (CCA).

Rosal led the early morning undertaking, which was participated in by nearly 4,000 volunteers composed, among others, of government workers, local officials, barangay leaders and students who trooped off to the planting site in Barangay Pawa along a giant crevice emanating from the slope of the 2,462-meter high volcano, one of the most active in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

In an on-site interview, Rosal said a total of 4,500 seedlings of palm and ipil-ipil trees provided by the regional office for Bicol of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based here were planted during the event.

“As in the past years’ practice, we should have done this one last Feb. 14, the feast day of St. Valentine, which was also declared through a local legislative council resolution passed two years ago as the city’s Arbor Day but the erratic weather condition that caused rains made us decide to move it to this day when downpours were not expected,” he said.

For three straight years now, the planting activities have been done along flood routes down the slope of the volcano as a measure to reinforce its flood control structures with trees that prevent soil erosion.

DENR Regional Director Gilbert Gonzales, who was among the tree-planting event’s participants, said this yearly activity that the city government is initiating is the most sustained tree-planting euphoria in Bicol.

It demonstrates the zeal among Legazpeños in growing trees motivated by their concern for the environment, according to Gonzales, who assessed the survival rate of trees planted in the area during the past two consecutive years at more than 60 percent—an achievement that could already be considered as above expectation.

“As we can see, the palm trees planted over those years are now more than four meters tall and the pili plants, which grow slower, are now about two meters in height. It’s really pleasing to see them grow, providing the greenery in the area which in the past had been rendered barren by lahar flows and floods from the volcano,” he said.

This year, palm and ipil-ipil trees were used because these varieties have higher rate of survivals as they can stand alone without being attended to by caretakers, apart from the fact that they are more suited to the soil and climate condition near the foot of the volcano, Gonzales said.

Last year’s Valentine’s Day planting activity used 4,000 pili tree seedlings, also provided by the DENR that can be observed as already young and healthy growing trees, providing shades and vegetation along both banks of the Pawa water channel.

DENR-Bicol, Gonzales said, has been producing grafted pili planting materials for the National Greening Program (NGP) in the region to help the local pili nut industry satisfy the growing demand in both the domestic and international markets while providing the barren forest with sturdy trees that can withstand strong typhoons and flashfloods.

Rosal said the Barangay Pawa tree-planting site and lands at its adjacent barangays are being developed by the city as a public pili orchard which later would become an additional source of income for local residents who will benefit from the fruits and other by-products of the trees.

“While we in the local government is aggressively pursuing programs leading to the development of the city as a highly urbanized metropolis, we are at the same time enhancing our countryside environment to maintain ecological balance not only to address the negative impacts of the changing climate but also provide livelihood opportunities to our poor,” he said.

Later on, the mayor said, the pili trees will be intercropped with other high-value crops such as cacao, malunggay (moringa), squash and eggplants, among others, that do not compete with pili over the soil’s nutrients.

Pili is among the most common trees in Bicol whose nuts, processed into sweet delicacies, enjoy a huge demand in both the domestic and international market.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) recognizes pili nut as a “climate-smart” crop that carries with it a limitless top earner industry potential for the region.

Rosal said that through the establishment of the pili orchard around areas near Mt. Mayon, the city is participating in the pili nut industry enhancement program that the DA-Bicol is currently implementing aimed at plantations expansion.

In embarking on the expansion of local pili nut production, the agency has been propagating and distributing thousands of quality pili seedlings for free to growers all over the region.

The area planted to pili in Bicol as of 2012 was at around 1,800 hectares for nearly 500,000 trees and “we are working on our contribution to the expansion of these plantation areas through our tree planting programs,” the city mayor said.

At least, he added, the “Tanim Alay sa Puso” has already grown about 2,000 pili trees on the project’s planting sites around the city, he added. (PNA) RMA/FGS/DOC/CBD/SSC