THINK ON THESE: Bamboo for peace

Liguasan Marsh in the Mindanao River basin – with 220,000 hectares of which 30,000 are known game refuge and bird sanctuary – is one of the major marshlands in the Philippines.

About 1,000 hectares of the marsh will soon be planted to bamboo that will supplied by the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERB) as part of the National Greening Program (NGP), according to a press release.

The government-backed development project “hopes to bring peace to residents” in the area that has been described as “conflict-ridden.”

Moh Saaduddin, in a news report published in The Manila Times, noted: “Liguasan Marsh has been isolated from major development projects partly because of the presence of rebels and lawless elements, that roost in the area.”

The press release said that Secretary Regina L. Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources launched the Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD) in Liguasan Marsh.

“(SIAD) is a one-of-a-kind partnership with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), military, the Radjah Buayan town and the Maguindanao provincial government and their communities,” the press release explained.

Bamboo, the poor man’s timber, has been identified as a major plantation crop in the project.  “The development of 1,000 hectares in Radjah Buayan is part of the department’s endeavor to develop one million hectares of bamboo nationwide,” said Dr. Henry A. Adornado, the ERDB Director who appointed as overall coordinator of SIAD.

“Bamboo was chosen because of its economic, ecological environmental contributions and its potential to provide sustainable benefit to the farmers,” said Adornado, adding that there is a high return on investment and faster payback in bamboo.

Based on studied plantations in Central America, The REDD Monitor placed bamboo’s return on investment at 26%.  REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

Planting bamboo is environment-friendly, so to speak.  It can help address the problem of climate change, which has been wreaking havoc all over the world now.  Some studies showed that bamboo plants can sequester 12 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Not only that.  Bamboo is an effective tool in addressing soil erosion, landslides, and flooding.

The ERDB said in a statement: “It is envisioned that with SIAD, Radjah Buayan will become a bamboo capital of the Philippines, reducing the municipality’s poverty level which is currently at 35%.”

The SIAD, Lopez said, is one of the government’s way of helping the residents of the Liguasan Marsh.

In addition, Lopez urged government, private, and civic groups to put up “integrated area development” (IAD) models.

She said that IADs showcase best practices while sustaining the integrity of the ecosystem.  Among the initiatives that have worked include those for the La Mesa Eco Park in Metro Manila, the Ugong Rock in Palawan, Mangrove Forest in Bohol, and the Ecotourism Areas in Pangasinan.

“The community in these areas are now benefitting the fruits of a green economy without destroying the environment and their respective organizations do now have millions in their bank accounts,” Lopez said.

It must be recalled that the Society for the Conservation of Philippine Wetlands Inc. (SCPW) had pushed for a “National Wetlands Policy.”  After all, more than 30 inland wetlands have been identified as priority sites for conservation by the Philippine Biodiversity Priority Setting.

Under the Ramsar international wetland conservation treaty, wetlands are defined as follows:

Article 1.1: “… wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters.”

Article 2.2: “(Wetlands) may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six meters at low tide lying within the wetlands.”

In simpler terms, wetlands occur where water meets land.  They include mangroves, peatlands and marshes, rivers and lakes, deltas, floodplains and flooded forests, rice-fields, and even coral reefs.

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise of wetlands and their resources.

In the Philippines, there are six wetlands of international importance; these are Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao, Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro, Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Sulu Sea, and the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.

Although there are many laws and action plans that seek to conserve these, there is no overall national policy on wetlands in the Philippines.

“There are 316 fish species (in these wetlands) of which 121 are endemic and 76 are threatened.  (Also found are) numerous species of waterbirds, aquatic plants and a majority of amphibians and semi-aquatic species such as the highly-endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis),” the SCPW said.