Beyond incomes: Quality seeds boost women’s role in forest restoration | Inquirer News

Beyond incomes: Quality seeds boost women’s role in forest restoration

/ 10:57 AM March 07, 2024

Beyond incomes: Quality seeds boost women’s role in forest restoration

Women farmers involved in tree plantation in a rural community in Mindanao are investing in quality seeds to grow better falcata, a fast-growing tree used for timber and construction. PHOTO BY ALIE PETER NEIL GALEON

BUENAVISTA, Agusan del Norte—It all started with seeds.

Farmer Elena Cadeniag, who is 61 years old, used to collect coffee-brown falcate seeds in her neighborhood. Twenty years later she would realize the potential of her long-term investment in falcata literally rising from the ground.


In six months, Elenita and 52 other members of Simbalan Mabongahon Workers Association, Inc. (SMAWA) will plant the falcata seeds on their own one-hectare farm. By then, the Seeding Seed Orchid established in their village in 2019 would be ready with ready-to-plant and high-quality falcata seeds.


Since venturing into the falcata industry in 2000, Elenita’s biggest challenge was how to acquire quality seeds.

The ideal falcata tree has a straight trunk, wide diameter, balanced canopy, few branches, and is disease-free, but the seeds Elenita had randomly collected came from a small, inbred population and carried all the problems of the parent trees.

“We collected seeds from just around us and turned them into seedlings,” said Elenita, who has been president of SMAWA since its formation in 2016.

“The problem was that the trees varied in growth—some remained stunted despite being planted for a long time already, while others grew fast,” she said.

Quiet architects of the future

Falcata, a fast-growing tree reaching up to 20 meters high, is a priority species for the wood industry. It is a significant source for producing plywood and veneer, and essential in constructing interior and exterior walls, floors and sheathing.

In 2022, 87 percent (553,771 cubic meters) of the total falcata log production came from Elenita’s home region in Caraga alone, according to data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).


Industrial tree-plantation species, such as falcata, are economically valuable in the region, and they are expected to contribute significantly to the country’s annual industrial timber requirements of three million cubic meters.

But falcata trees grown by SMAWA farmers have long been victims of the dual threats of pests and diseases.

Over the years, farmers’ heavy reliance on wild seeds from remnant patches resulted in unintended consequences—such as the trees’ comparatively stunted size and vulnerability to multiple diseases. They also lacked specific surveillance and maintenance measures throughout falcatas’ growth years.

“Before, we just let it slide. Eventually, we learned that the Gall Rust disease would spread once it exploded. Diseases became rampant here because we did not do anything about it; we did not know then,” Elenita recalled.

Lourdes Agne, head of the Mindanao Forest Tree Seed Center (MFTSC), said improper collection presents a severe risk as seeds may come from unhealthy ‘mother’ trees. When this happens, new seedlings may exhibit the same poor characteristics despite proper monitoring and management interventions.

Proper seed collection entails selecting good ‘mother’ or ‘plus’ trees, collecting seeds from a diverse range of plant populations, climbing the tree using a tree lopper and a net to ensure seeds are safely harvested, and documenting seed-collection processes accurately.

“Seeds are the quiet architects of our future, signifying the possibilities for growth, sustenance and resilience. A well-established seed system and a commitment to high-quality seed sources are the foundations of our forest restoration,” Agne said.

Erasing borders in the field

In 2017, MFTSC led a training series on proper seed collection and pest and disease management, as a response to the collective clamor of Simbalan farmers on growing better trees. This training program led to the establishment of the Seedling Seed Orchard two years later, a one-hectare demonstration field for falcata.

The orchard is currently home to at least 1,500 four-year-old trees sourced from 33 mother falcatas widespread across Caraga, known as the Timber Corridor of the Philippines. Around 60 percent of the trees are likely to inherit the good qualities of their parent sources.

Once in the orchard, Elenita gets to work doing what she does best: keeping an eye out for potential pests and diseases threatening falcatas’ growth. For her and the rest of the women SMAWA farmers, this is where they put into practice what they learned and assert their roles in the plantation.

They oversee the nursery and monitoring stages, and are responsible for staking, planting and watering during the trees’ establishment stage. The men are focused on the heavier jobs, including site preparation, hole digging, herbicide spraying, and harvesting.

In one of her recent visits, Elenita had spotted one concern: two rows of falcatas showed trees with visible cuts on their trunks.

Seeing the cuts took Elenita back to the conventional tuli system from several years back, practiced mainly by male farmers. They used to believe that cutting the young falcata trees would help them grow bigger and stronger, but researchers from MFTSC argued otherwise. The practice instead threatens the falcatas because the cuts offer an invitation for disease incursions.

Now, SMAWA farmers have learned a rather more appropriate cutting method in sanitation cutting—a disease-management practice that entails removing an infected part of the tree to prevent the disease from spreading further.

“We tried hard to learn what the men know. We no longer want to be told we are only limited to something,” Elenita said emphatically. “Through our learnings, we will be able to share with others as well. It’s different when you’re just a passive receiver of information.”

Quality seed doesn’t cost, it pays

Dr. Riina Jalonen, a scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), commended Elenita and her fellow women’s efforts in obtaining quality seed for their falcata plantation.

Jalonen said seed-quality concerns have gained traction following growing interest in restoring forests and landscapes. While this means involving more species and land users, she argued that many restoration practitioners have not yet fully realized the importance of healthy seed sources as “long-term impacts are not easy to identify.”

“Having healthy, well-growing trees from healthy seeds is important for any tree-planting efforts, whether for production or conservation purposes,” said Jalonen.

“SWAMA serves as an important model for others in this and, as the experiences show, the women have already become agents of positive change in their communities,” added Jalonen, who is also convenor of

the Asia-Pacific Forest Genetic Resources Programme, a regional network seeking to bolster scientific cooperation on the conservation and management of forest genetic resources across 15 member countries.

Experts at the MFTSC also aim to make timber production more sustainable by improving their seed-information system for the entire value chain, particularly for farmers and policymakers. They continue to collect and validate field data to produce an accurate seed zones map, a tool they hope can become a basis for crafting policies to conserve different tree species.

“By 2030, we hope to see the Seedling Seed Orchards become more productive to link with seed suppliers and tree farmers, and the center to become the center of human resources development on forest restoration,” Agne said.

The falcata story, for all tree farmers like Elenita, seems far from complete.

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The conclusion may include a combination of better seeds, disease control, further research, and more capacity training. But one thing is sure for now: sourcing native trees, including native alternatives for falcata, is underway and may be part of the answer to further incentivize sustainable forest management through improved livelihood and incomes.

TAGS: Caraga, Falcata, Timber production

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