Friday, 24 February 2012

Saving Bicol's vanishing forest by buying poor folks' crafts

     Oldest and largest tree in Bicol. THIS Red Lauan (Shorea 
      negrosensis) "Mother Tree" is considered as the oldest and largest tree in the Bicol   
      region.  It has a height of 27m with a diameter (at breast height) of 220cm. The tree is 
      estimated to be 440 years old, some DENR Bicol foresters say.  It is located within the 
      Bicol National Park at Sitio Nalisan, Barangay Tuaca in Basud,Camarines Norte, more 
      than two kilometers away from the Maharlika Highway. - ASA, DENR/PIA Sorsogon

       A crystal-clear brook is still available within the virgin forest at the Bicol National Park 
       for the present generation to see and marvel about. - Websitepic

BASUD, Camarines Norte: Buying handicrafts weaved by poor folks in Barangay Tuaca in this town could save the Bicol National Park (BNP), a protected forest on the brink of being wiped out by rampant illegal logging and charcoal production in the northernmost province of the Bicol Region, where its bulk sprawls in peril.

Tuaca lies next to the BNP, also referred to as Bitukang Manok (chicken gut) because a zigzagging portion of the Maharlika Highway winds right through it.

Most of Tuaca residents had lived right inside the BNP until they were relocated in 2001 and afterwards urged to engage in handicraft production using non-timber forest products, instead of earning incomes by cutting and burning trees and other plants growing in the national park.

When the villagers were moved out of the BNP, however, they were virtually stripped of their livelihoods -- mainly logging and charcoal-making -- so that handicraft production is their only option now.

Now, the municipal government sees the need to convince folks that there is money in handicraft-making, lest the villagers would return to their old ways and, once again, contribute to the denudation of the BNP, home to the Mother Tree, one of, if not, the oldest trees in the region.

The so-called Mother Tree is a 440-year-old Red Lauan ( Shorea negrosensis) that towers at 27 meters and has a diameter that reaches 2.2 meters, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bicol.

Lamon handicraft
"I have been into handicraft-making since 1994, when I moved out of Alanao, after it had lost its forest. There is little income from it but it has sustained us for long. We have weaved handicrafts instead of going into the forest," says Avelino Zapanta Sr., 62.

Alanao is a barangay in neigboring Lupi town in Camarines Sur, also on the fringes of the BNP.

Zapanta, now a councilor of Tuaca, is among those who were encouraged to create baskets and vases out of lamon, a kind of fern growing in abundance in the village, especially on the deforested patches of the BNP.

He laments that he has little capital and his handicrafts have unstable marketability. To augment his meager income, he teaches handicraft-making to other villagers.

Most of the villagers who are also into handicraft-making have the same plight as Zapanta's.

But Zapanta, who has since become a strong believer in the preservation of the PNP, has no plan of profiting from trees again.

In fact, he risked his life years ago when he defended an employee of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) manning the BNP.

The employee, he says, got the ire of loggers in the area and had an attempt to his life. He was hacked on his side while trying to defend the environment worker.

But like many other "converts" in the village, they appeal for help in terms of capital and wider market for their cottage industry.

The fear that villagers would once again engage in logging and charcoal making was heightened with the consecutive apprehension of loggers and charcoal makers within and around BNP in January.

Illegal logging
In fact, one of those apprehended this month was the son of Zapanta, Avelino Jr.

The police said Avelino Jr. was caught in the act of cutting a tree within the BNP, just a kilometer away from the Mother Tree, using a chainsaw. 

Avelino Jr had been detained at the municipal jail of Basud, while his family was gathering enough money to post bail for his temporary freedom.

Zapanta, however, claims that his son was just gathering lamon for their handicraft and pleas for the dropping of the illegal logging case against Avelino Jr.

The case against Avelino Jr. is just among several incidents within the BNP this month.

Illegally-cut trees also have been seized by police and DENR operatives in Basud and neighboring San Lorenzo Ruiz town, which also straddles the BNP. 

The DENR in Camarines Norte said logging in BNP already killed P500,000 worth of trees only in January.

 Jose Boticario, Basud environment and natural resources officer, says the municipal government has invested in community organizing and livelihood programs despite meager town resources to sustain the interest of villagers in handicraft-making and keep them away from practices destructive to the forest.

"They need alternative sources of income and handicraft-making is the answer," says Boticario.

He says the municipal government has sought the assistance of the Department of Science in Technology in providing technical assistance to the villagers.

In a conference, Tuaca and two other villages-Caayunan and San Pascual-were assessed to be heavily dependent on forest products and need help in terms of alternative sources of income.

He says the municipal government hopes for a boost in the fledgling handicraft industry to avoid further damage to the forest.

"We are trying our best to find clients for the villagers' handicrafts," he says.

Going, going, gone
With a total area of 57sqkm, the BNP was established in 1930. It lies between the Camarines provinces, with its larger expanse in Camarines Norte.

The Department for International Development of the United Kingdom government and the European Forest Institute, in a 2009 report, said only 7.6sqkm of "the original grandeur" of the BNP remains. It means BNP already lost 85% of its forest cover.

Boticario admits that BNP has fallen victim to logging and charcoal production that is why the municipal government has stopped issuing tree-cutting and charcoal-making permits.

Twenty eight years ago, Boticario shares, one could still feel the cool air while passing through the then heavily-forested Bitukang Manok. "Now, it is not the case."

Aside from turning away the people from destroying the forest, the municipal government is pinning its hope to save Bicol's vanishing treasure to the National Greening Program of the government.

The DENR on January 10 has released a total of P6 million for the reforestation of the bare patches of the BNP. The reforestation program was labeled as urgent.

Boticario says the municipal government is doing its part by encouraging tree-planting in the BNP especially along riverbanks. "Residents should realize that when you plant a tree, you help a life," he says.

Gov Edgardo Tallado says logging in the BNP is "non-negotiable”.

BNP supplies potable water to Basud and the rest of the Bicol-speaking towns of Camarines Norte.

But while rehabilitation of the BNP is in effect, destruction of the dwindling forest remains unabated.

A trip through Bitukang Manok in the evening until midnight would introduce motorists to charcoal-sellers, some of them children, who brave even the rain at nighttime just to hail vehicles and sell charcoal at P120 per sack. – Bicol Mail

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