A wood processing project is seen to create jobs and new export-oriented industries producing furniture and veneer that will tap unused wood from a 2,115 hectare community forest in Agusan del Sur and 1,932 hectares in Negros Oriental.
The pilot “vertical integration” project is envisioned to be replicated in logging areas all over the country once proven successful under a project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
It is funded for $1.118 million by the South Korea-based Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO).
Participating farmer groups are the Nalundan United Farmers’ Association (NUFAI) in Barangays Nalundan, Bindoy, Negros Oriental and Mindanao Timberland Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative (MATILFAMCO) in Barangay Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said the project with AFoCO will be the start of a sustainable forest management project in the two provinces.
Cimatu stressed that the wood processing plants to be put up will tap raw materials from CBFM areas (community-based forest management). It will raise the income and livelihood levels of POs (people’s organizations) in the grassroots.
“The Philippines needs five million cubic meters of wood or lumber per year. Only one million is from the Philippines. The rest is imported. Those that come from the Philippines are from private forests, not CBFM,” Cimatu said during a project launch
At present, NUFAI and MATILFAMCO only earn from round timber (lumber of Acacia mangium and of Falcata) since they do not yet have wood processing plants.
Lumber of Acasia mangium only sells at P7 per board feet or P84 per 12-foot length, according to Richard Fabre, city environment and natural resources officer (CENRO) in Bindoy, Negros Oriental.
Given the presence of a factory, NUFAI expects its farmers to become traders themselves of their own value-added products.
“With the wood processing plant from the AFOCO project, we will be able to produce furniture. PO members will go through training under TESDA (Technical Education and Skills development Authority) and DTI (Department of trade and Industry),” said Fabre.
Despite their small earnings from logs, it is just good that through DENR’s initiative NUFAI (with 160 beneficiaries) was supported by the Department of Agriculture with another livelihood source, a 200-head cattle inventory.
“This is the reason why NUFAI was chosen in the AFOCO project—because they have been successful in using the CBFM area government gave them,” said Fabre.
MATILFAMCO has a CBFM contract over a total of 2,115 hectares in Agusan del Sur and NUFAI, 1,932 hectares in Negros Oriental.
NUFAI presently has a harvestable Acacia mangium area of 300 hectares. But only 75 hectares has a cutting permit. In Agusan del Sur, MATILFAMCO farmers look forward to producing finished product veneer wood from Falcata trees, according to Forester Leonito Ramos of DENR-Caraga.
Veneer is an engineered wood where thinly sliced wood is bonded with a substrate to produce higher-end solid wood used in interiors or as construction material. Raw materials for veneer wood will come from Falcata trees currently planted on 680 hectares in Brgy Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
“The farmers will enjoy a 60 percent increase in their net income once the wood processing plant is constructed,” said Ramos. “Right now 40 percent of their income from selling logs goes to traders.”
At present, MATILFAMCO sells their raw logs (26 centimeter diameter), called “export,” at P150,000-P180,000 per 30 to 35 cubic meter-truck. The Falcata logs called “pulp” (24 centimeter diameter and below) sell at P80,000 to P100,000 per 30 to 35 cubic meter truck.
The MATILFAMCO farmers also earn from growing rubber, corn, and saba or lakatan banana.
However, with the wood processing plant, the farmers will be able to enjoy additional income from tapping a separate 100-hectare Falcata plantation. This new area was planted with an assistance from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
“They wanted to harvest this 100-hectare Falcata area as early as in 2019. But we told them to wait for the wood processing plant of the AFOCO project so they will earn higher,” said Ramos.
With the wood factory, MATILFAMCO farmers (with 84 beneficiaries) will be able to also produce packaging boxes for bananas and other fruit-vegetable products from the scrap.
Cimatu expressed satisfaction that after a two-year delay due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the project will now start. It will be implemented over five years until 2026,
More especially, it is with partnership with AFoCO which is based in South Korea, a leader in reforestation. It was noted that Korea once had very low forest cover due to a civil war. But it bounced back as one of the countries in Asia with the highest forest cover due to its aggressive reforestation that Philippines can emulate.
In the implementation of the AFoCO project, there will also be collaboration with other national government agencies like the DOST-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) and Local Government Units (LGUs).
The POs will undergo capacity building on product’s value-addition. They be provided with access to machineries and equipment for the wood processing plant. They will be assisted in establishing links with potential wood product buyers/traders in the domestic market.
In relation to the DENR’s intention to strengthen forest management, Cimatu said that the DENR will also push for the legislation of a forest law enforcement arm. DENR will create at least a 2,000-strong forest guard workforce. Similar to Korea where illegal loggers are automatically driven away by the presence of forest guards in uniform, Philippines will employ this practice.
That will be along with other practices in South Korea that may be somewhat difficult to emulate, such as its robust aviation force patrolling forests, but not impossible. For one, Philippines employs high-technology forest monitoring devices in what is called the LAWIN. It is an innovative forest monitoring technology capable of geo-spatial analysis of collected data indicating forests’ condition and threats to trees and wildlife.