By Julio P. Yap Jr.

Some 3,000 members of the Manobo tribe in the highland villages of the municipalities of Rosario and Bunawan in Agusan del Sur are expected to benefit from the propagation of giant bamboo in their area.

One of the farm technicians of Philsaga prepares a basketful of giant bamboo seedlings to be brought to the reforestation area.

This is just part of the various livelihood opportunities being provided by the Philsaga Mining Corporation (PSMC) for the indigenous people under its social development programs in the province of Agusan del Sur.

The giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper) was specifically chosen because it is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, with a reported average growth of 3 to 10 centimeters per day. It can even grow to as much as 100 centimeters in about 24 hours, depending, of course, on the local soil and climate conditions.

Aside from being a fast grower, one- to two-year-old giant bamboo plants are already available for the manufacture of handicrafts, which require pliable bamboo splits; thus, livelihood opportunities could start early for the members of the Manobo tribe.

For the implementation of the project, the members of the Manobo tribe were tapped to plant more than 3,500 seedlings of giant bamboo in an initial area of six hectares last October.

During the initial four years, the giant bamboo can be seen as a complementary crop that could fill a target market, rather than a cash crop. But after this initial stage and beyond, profitable sustainable yields may be attainable without additional expenses for replanting.

Eventually, it is expected to become a primary yearly cash crop for the members of the Manobo tribe. This is expected to inspire the 200 sectoral leaders of the Manobo tribe to initiate different projects involving the use of the giant bamboo as raw material.

The project, which was said to be the first-ever in Mindanao, was conceptualized in line with the objective of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to provide livelihood opportunities for the local residents of the two municipalities, aside from protecting the environment.

The giant bamboo plants are also expected to enhance the government’s environment protection program, with benefits like stabilizing the soil in surrounding areas and preventing the occurrence of landslides, in addition to promoting carbon capture capability. The giant bamboo, which releases more oxygen than trees, will also help stabilize riverbanks, regulate watersheds, protect against soil erosion, and recycle water nutrients.

The fruit tree seedling nursery of Philsaga which will also be planted in the areas around the reforestation site to complement the giant bamboo project.

As this developed, the sectoral leaders of the Manobo tribe are looking forward for more areas to be piloted by the mining company for the giant bamboo project. “The bamboo project is seen to uplift our living condition,” said 59-year-old Emilio Oliver, one of the Manobo sectoral leaders. He added, in the vernacular, “We are hoping for the full implementation of the giant bamboo project as this will help the livelihood of our people in communities.”

The efforts of the PSMC in implementing the giant bamboo project also gained the recognition of the local government units (LGUs) of the two towns. Municipal resolutions were recently approved by the local legislative councils of Bunawan and Rosario, with the councils expressing their profound gratitude and full support for the company’s continued and notable contributions to the upliftment of the lives of the residents in the area, particularly the members of the Manobo tribe.

To fast-track the nursery development of its bamboo project, the PSMC has already produced some 3,500 giant bamboo nodes within its concession area, particularly along the flat grounds near its tailings storage facility. Initially, six hectares are now being developed by the PSMC to intensify its “Green Gold Project” through giant bamboo production in the province of Agusan del Sur.

The project is part of the company’s corporate social responsibility program, and the PSMC, since the start of its mining operations, has been engaged in massive reforestation and greening programs, including efforts to restore marine lives, to fulfil its commitment to be an environment-friendly company. It presently maintains at least three main nursery sites with a total area of 23,000 square meters, and the capacity to produce 275,000 seedlings.

The company has already reforested around 560.67 hectares of lands under its Mining Forest Program, and another 643.26 hectares in the surrounding areas in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under the National Greening Program (NGP) of the national government.

Some of the Manobo tribe members while planting the giant bamboo seedlings in the highland villages of Rosario and Bunawan in Agusan del Sur.

In 2016 alone, the PSMC was able to plant 24,346 assorted forest trees, 57,344 different fruit trees, and some 21,145 rubber trees. It was learned that the PSMC is currently elevating its greening efforts and bent to pursue giant bamboo production.

Citing the viability of the initiative, PSMC president Raul C. Villanueva is eyeing to expand the giant bamboo project in some parts of Agusan del Sur. “We’re hoping that this project will also help the other residents of Agusan, especially the Lumad communities.”

The PSMC’s giant bamboo project is part of the government’s commitment to reforest at least 500,000 hectares with bamboo. The move, Villanueva added, is also in line with the government’s call, through Executive Order No. 879, to pursue the planting of bamboo plants as antidote to land degradation and disaster management.

Aside from the indigenous people, the project will also benefit the other communities in the area, said PSMC resident manager Ferdinand Cortes, who added that it will also have economic impacts in the different communities—among them the generation of employment opportunities for those who will be involved in the reforestation program. “The giant [bamboo plants] will also become the source of raw materials for the construction of houses, production of handicraft and furniture, and implementation of other livelihood programs for the local residents in the area.”

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2016 issue.