Meralco engages volunteers, farmers in saving the Philippines forests
The Malubog Watershed is among the reforestation sites nurtured by Global Business Power Corporation (GBPC) under its Kabilin project. Kabilin is part of the One for Trees program of Meralco.
The Meralco Group launched an initiative called “One for Trees” to sustainably plant and nurture trees in Philippine forests and critical watersheds. Led by the company’s corporate social responsibility arm, One Meralco Foundation (OMF), and supported by its subsidiaries and affiliates, the program has planted more than a million trees in reforestation sites in Bulacan, Cebu and Panay.
REGREENING THE ‘BACKBONE OF LUZON’
In 2019, more than 2,000 Meralco employees participated in tree nurturing activities of the “One for Trees” program such as this one at the GreenEarth Heritage Farm in San Miguel, Bulacan.
On the foothills of the Sierra Madre lies a 107-hectare farm in Sitio Malapad na Parang, Brgy. Sibul, San Miguel, Bulacan which has been providing sustainable livelihood to about 35 local farmers and their families.
Known as "Green Earth Heritage Farm," the open forest is maintained by a private non-profit organization called GreenEarth Heritage Foundation, which was instituted to promote the livelihood of local farmers through sustainable agroforestry.
For several years now, the farmers here plant and harvest Moringa (locally called "Malunggay") to be processed into export-quality tea so they could earn a higher value out of their produce. Apart from this, they also sell organic vegetables to their surrounding communities augmenting their communal income.
In exchange for working on the farm, they are employed as regular workers, receive a pay that is higher than the minimum wage rate, and are provided with decent housing, healthcare, and education for their children from elementary to college.
One Meralco Foundation has been Green Earth's partner in taking care of the farmers since 2013.
Since the farm lies outside of the power grid, OMF installed solar-powered water pumps to irrigate its plantations, and in 2015, through the request of the foundation, Meralco extended its distribution lines to address the growing demand of the farm's processing facility.
The intervention dramatically increased the farm's output, allowing the employment of more farmers -- thus, benefiting more families in the process.
In support of Meralco's goal to be a sustainable energy company, OMF launched in 2019 a campaign that aims to rehabilitate threatened ecosystems through reforestation, particularly, by planting at least 5 million trees by 2025.
However, the foundation understands that planting trees is only an initial step in the process. In fact, this alone is not sustainable. Maintenance and frequent monitoring are equally important to ensure the success of the program, and these activities can only be efficiently implemented by engaging communities living near the plantation sites.
On the other hand, Green Earth was also looking for ways to diversify its crops to ensure that there is continuity in their farmer's income throughout the year. Growing trees alongside crops is also beneficial, agriculturally speaking, since they protect the crops from harsh conditions such as typhoons, landslides, and extreme heat, and trees also hold moisture in the soil especially during the dry seasons.
This complementarity prompted OMF and Green Earth to join hands, once more, to pursue a greater mission: to help save the Philippines' diminishing forests while sustaining the livelihood of farmers through an advocacy called "One For Trees.”
Meralco employees plant fruit-bearing trees in this section of GreenEarth Heritage Farm during a tree planting activity in November 2019. These trees will be nurtured for three years by the partner-farmers at GreenEarth.
Under the partnership, OMF provides funding for the establishment of nurseries and rainwater collection tanks, planting of seedlings during the appropriate season, and continued monitoring of the foundation's trees.
“Gathering and monitoring data is also very important as it will help us determine the average mortality rates of our trees, and allow us to plan ahead on where and how many more trees will be planted in the next planting season. We will also find out from their monitoring what kinds of problems on the ground contribute to the mortality rate and how best to address these so that we could achieve a higher survival rate,” explained Aileen De Ocampo, Farm Manager of Green Earth.
“Doing a sustainable tree nurturing program requires a lot of resources and is data-intensive. But simply planting trees without any follow through is a waste of money and effort because the investment does not result in a measurable, long-term impact,” she added.
As with other social development programs of the foundation, the involvement of the community is vital to achieve the goals of “One for Trees.”
"We want the program to create a positive impact not just on the environment but also on the community around our plantation sites. If they see value in our tree farm, they will nurture it," Tarayao said.
To bring the advocacy closer to the consciousness of Meralco employees, the foundation organized tree planting activities in Green Earth and other partner sites during the last two quarters of the year.
“It was very fulfilling because we were able to understand what Green Earth has been doing to uplift the lives of the farmers, and how from the beginning, it wasn’t just about planting trees but also about the livelihood of everyone here,” said volunteer Miel Lanting, Head of Platform Delivery of Meralco’s Information, Communication, Technology and Transformation office.
“Because of the partnership between Green Earth and One Meralco Foundation under the ‘One for Trees’ initiative, we were able to raise our awareness. It helped us realize a lot of things with regards to the environment. You gain a different perspective when you actually go to the site and plant trees,” shared volunteer Atty. Oscar P. Moreno, Jr., Head of Local Government Affairs and Special Projects.
“When I first saw the terrain, I thought to myself, this was going to be tough. But what makes the task easier is the thought that we are all in this together. If I were to do it alone, I wouldn't be able to do much. But because everyone is doing it with smiles on their faces, the task at hand becomes easy,” shared Benjamin U. Cusi, Head of Network Technology and Asset Management.
The "One for Trees" campaign was designed with all three pillars of sustainability in mind. The planting of trees helps absorb excess carbon in the atmosphere, stabilizes and moisturizes the soil, and provides a habitat for an entire ecosystem to thrive. At the same, the employment of farmers ensures that the trees are nurtured by able hands. It also brings food on the table of the farmers and their families especially during the non-harvest season. Constant monitoring also ensures that good governance is exercised and parties mutually and equitably benefit from the partnership.
"If we look at a tree planting program only from an environmental perspective, there is a good chance it will remain a philanthropy. We must look at its social and economic benefits, too, to be able to sustain it," said Tarayao.
SUSTAINING FORESTS AND COMMUNITIES IN THE VISAYAS
A farmer harvests star apples (kaimito) from a fully-grown tree planted in Global Business Power Corporation’s agroforestry site in Cebu.
In the Visayas, Meralco PowerGen Corporation’s subsidiary, Global Business Power Corporation, (GBP) fosters sustainable environmental stewardship to leave a legacy for the next generations. Aptly named Kabilin and Handumanan which mean ‘legacy’ in Cebuano and Hiligaynon respectively, GBP’s carbon sink program aims to regrow forest cover in high-impact target areas to help address carbon emissions and other ecological impact of modernization and at the same time, contribute to the development of the communities living within the forestlands.
As part of the Company’s sustainable approach, GBP’s carbon sink program ensures enduring benefits for the local communities by planting endemic species, providing the necessary training support and incorporating agroforestry into the project. In planting high value crops and fruit bearing trees, the local communities are provided with a sustainable source of income even after successfully completing the reforestation phase.
"We actively engage our partner communities in our reforestation program for them to grow appreciation in protecting the environment and to naturally care for it. In doing so, we hope that our planted trees will thrive for the benefit of the next generations and will be able to live up to the program's name of leaving a legacy," said GBP President Jaime T. Azurin.
Kabilin includes the 3-year carbon sink project in Toledo City, Cebu which covers 100 hectares of denuded forestland in the Malubog Watershed. GBP’s Handumanan reforestation in Lambunao, Iloilo covers 150 hectares of mountain land within the West Visayas State University’s (WVSU) reserve forest. The carbon sink project in Lambunao also pioneered a work-for-study scheme which prioritizes hiring of locals whose children are enrolled in WVSU.