One Meralco Foundation engages employee-volunteers and local farmers in an effort to save the Philippines’ diminishing forests.
On the foothills of the Sierra Madre lies a 107-hectare farm in Sitio Malapad na Parang, Brgy. Sibul, San Miguel, Bulacan that 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 organic 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, benefitting 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 3 million trees in conservation areas within the next six years.
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 farmers’ 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.”
Under this partnership, the Foundation provides funding for the establishment of nurseries and rainwater collection tanks, planting of seedlings during the appropriate season, and continued monitoring of the 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 the achievement of 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,” OMF President Jeffrey 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.
“When I first saw the terrain, I said 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 won’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 time, the employment of farmers ensures that the trees are nurtured by able hands. It also brings food on the table of 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.
(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the 2019 OMF Annual Report)