Learning, Enjoying, and Earning from Agro-Forestry (Native Trees, Part IV)

Published April 5, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

AS LOVELY AS A TREE A tree in Mariveles, Bataan, 1830. French scientist Cyrille Pierre Theodore Laplace was here 191 years ago and went deer hunting in Bataan. Voyage Autour du Monde … (Paris, 1833).

Forest tree nursery owner Gerardo “Geff” Cedeño, whom I met virtually on Facebook, gave me a quick rundown on Philippine hardwoods. I’ve always assumed that their wood is great for buildings and furniture. It was therefore an eyeopener that many can and should be significant recurring income sources.

The commercial value of coffee, pili, and cashew trees is already recognized, but much can still be done, like cultivating them in large orchards as is being done elsewhere for macadamias, almonds, pistachios, pecans, hazel nuts, etc.

We have other trees of similar commercial potential like kalumpít and balobo that are unknown to most.

In seven years, kalumpít (terminalia macrocarpa) begins to produce up to a ton of purple-blue fruits rich in nutrients and antioxidants that can be made into jam, jelly, juice, and champóy. Cedeño also attests to kalumpít’s delicious and refreshing dark red juice that tastes like lemonade and that has the consistency of mango juice. He feels it can easily compete with imported orange and lemon juice. It is not delicate and fruits year after year without needing any flower-inducing spray. A full-grown tree is 15 to 20 meters tall with a trunk one meter in diameter. Planted eight meters apart, one hectare can accommodate 150 trees yielding up to 150 tons of fruit annually.

Balobo (Philippine almond) trees start bearing fruit after eight to 10 years. Its kernels are two centimeters in diameter and can be snack food, ingredients of chocolate and protein bars, or mixed with oats in a breakfast cereal. A hectare can be planted to about 240 trees that will yield some 100 to150 kilos of nuts each or 30 to 35 tons per hectare.

Other species are suitable for sustained and long-term tree farming.

Cedeño considers yakál sapluñgan as “King of Philippine Forests.” It is the fastest growing dipterocarp that rises to 55 meters and expands to two meters in diameter.  Unfortunately, it is a prime logging target. Similarly vanishing is lapnisan, also called agarwood, that is apparently among the world’s most expensive.

Kamagóng (diospyros blanco) or mabolo (as it is better known) is in demand for its remarkably shiny and heavy black wood. It bears fruit after 12 years. Peach-like in size and velvety fuzz but a light maroon in color, the fruit is crunchy and tastes like apples when half-ripe and like tiesa (another tropical fruit) when ripe.

Daó (dracontomelon dao) is a large tree, 30 meters tall and two meters in diameter. The wood is a beautiful brown and yellow and a favorite for furniture and paneling. Its yellow fruits are as big as children’s marbles and have a sweet-sour taste. They are made into dehydrated sweetened candy (champóy) in Vietnam.

Amugis (koordensiodendron pinnatum) is a medium-size tree that grows to 25 meters high and one and a half meters in diameter. Its red wood is extremely hard, water-resistant and is a sinker. Only a superman can hammer nails on it and once in, the nail is almost impossible to pull out. It has been used as floor, beams, stairs, doors, and door and window jambs. Its fruits are yellow, like siniguelas in size, and with a sweet-sour taste.

The katmón (dillenia philipinensis) tree is relatively small, growing 15 meter high and 90 centimeters diameter. Its flowers are a lovely white and red and its fruits can be made into candy like Vicks, to ease colds, fevers, and itchy throats. The fruits are shaken with pieces of unrefined sugar cones (panochá) and cooked with mashed onions.

Dulitan (palaquium montanum) grows to 35 meters tall and expands to a diameter of one and a half meters. It produces medium strength lumber useful for general woodwork, house construction, boat paneling. Its fruits look like and are as tasty as star apples though with more seeds.

Early in the American Regime, Bureau of Forestry in Charge George Patrick Ahern cited akle (albizia acle) as the Philippines’ prime wood because it looks like walnut.  Cedeño is amused by the comparison. Ahern reportedly wrote that walnut is their best wood and therefore akle is our best because it’s like walnut. In truth, akle may be exceptional but in beauty, grain, strength, and durability, nothing—neither akle nor walnut—comes close to supa, kamagóng, ypil, or molave.

Only the non-renewable timber value of our forests has been appreciated and the term agro-forestry remains a foggy concept—nice to say but operationally unclear. We have banana and pineapple plantations; coconut, coffee, and mango orchards; and whatever bamboo and Bolivian mahogany tree farms were organized with government encouragement. Other countries, however, have entire countrysides of olives, dates, persimmons, oranges, lemons, almonds, lychees, cherries, et.al. that contribute heavily to GDP and Balance of Payments.

We can do the same. In addition to crops and short-lived trees and instead of harmful alien trees like mahogany, we can pursue the long-term commercial possibilities of our native trees, starting with low-hanging fruits as it were, like making pili and cashew into important recurring export earners.

Cedeño tells me that decades ago, Japan planted cedars that are now full grown. They now harvest the trees while planting more to benefit the still unborn. Similarly, Bavaria’s forests in Germany have been farmed—planted, harvested when mature, and planted again in a continuing cycle—to high-value but slow-growing trees. Obviously, the thinking of both countries is long-term, realizing that decades of patient nurturing and protection are needed to yield the unique, beautiful, and valued, and that the welfare of future generations has to be in the mind of the present.

A few billions—not even trillions—can cloak much of our presently useless bald mountains with trees that will help ease this generation’s thirst, prevent erosion and floods, and yield some of the world’s best timber and other benefits for our own grandchildren.

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