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Synchronized tree planting program

(The Philippine Star, 8/18/2013)

MANILA, Philippines -To help restore ecological integrity in tobacco growing regions, the Department of Agriculture's National Tobacco Administration (DA-NTA) conducted recently synchronized tree planting activities in various areas in Regions I, II and the Cordillera Administrative Region.

NTA Central Office employees conducted their tree planting in San Isidro, Montalban, Rizal.

The NTA's regreening project is in line with the government's National Greening Program which seeks to improve water quality in rivers and irrigation in farm lands, and lessen flooding potential.

Five hundred and fifty one thousand (551,000) seedlings of acacia, neem, narra, mahogany and giant ipil-ipil were planted during the initial tree planting activity led by NTA administrator Edgardo Zaragoza last July 30, with the Ilocos Sur Polytechnic State College (ISPSC) main campus in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur, as the command center and ceremonial planting site.

Zaragoza said the unified tree planting is part of the agency's effort to contribute its resources towards ecological restoration.

"The tobacco industry is one of the biggest users of fuelwood in tobacco-growing areas. To restore and manage the environment, the NTA initiated the effort to unify all partner agencies and stakeholders. We are all here because we believe in the cause of this undertaking," Zaragoza said.

For her part, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Undersecretary for Special Programs and Agrarian Stakeholders and Relation Office Rosalina Bistoyong commended the NTA for initiating the activity.

"Through this, we do not only stop the continuing degradation of the environment – especially the upland areas in the Ilocos Region, we also provide livelihood for the tobacco farmers. We plant for food security, we plant for climate change, and for livelihood," Bisto-yong said.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Ilocos Region (DENR) director Samuel Peñafiel congratulated the NTA for the initiative and committed to work closely with the agency in their regreening project.

On the other hand, Philippine Aromatic Tobacco Development Association and Universal Leaf Philippines, Inc. (ULPI) president Winston Uy, who represented the private sector, expressed his support to the NTA's livelihood program. "We give back what we take from the land and I hope that it will not only start today, but will move towards sustainability", he said.

The synchronized regreening project is supplementary to the NTA's livelihood assistance for tobacco farmers – 'Kahuyang Pang-kabuhayan at Pangkalikasan,' a component of the agency's Renewable Fuelwood Energy Farm Development Project.

The project aims to provide adequate source of fuelwood and other resources needed in tobacco curing by planting trees and bamboos in 1,400 hectares.

For this year, the NTA targets four million trees – mostly giant ipil-ipil, neem, gmelina, mahogany and kakawate – to be planted in all the component projects and 100,000 bamboo seedlings for Cagayan, Isabela and Pangasinan.

To the recommendation that the effort should be sustained, Zaragoza assured that the NTA is increasing its target in 2014 to one million trees for the synchronized tree planting and 1,600 hectares for the Kahuyang Pangkabuhayan module which would be increased further in the ensuing years.

Over 86,000 farmers, students and employees from the various government agencies and the private sector participated in the activity which include: DA-Regional Field Unit I; DAR, led by Undersecretary Rosalina Bistoyong; DENR led by Region I executive director Samuel Peñafiel; DPWH (IN, IS AND LU); DSWD (LU), Philippine Ports Authority (LU); Red Cross administrator and volunteers (Abra); Department of Education, with Bacarra (IN) Comprehensive National High School with the biggest number of participants of 2,000 students in a single site and Cadaclan Elementary School (San Fernando City, LU) and Dolores Central School (Abra) pupils among the youngest contigents; local government units, led by the provincial government of Ilocos Sur and with Gov. Eustaquio Bersamin leading the provincial government of Abra; ISPSC, led by executive dean Francisco Lopez, who represented the college's president Dr. Rafael Querubin, with its high school and college students in all campuses participating; Abra State Institute of Science And Technology; Environmental, NGO and Church groups; and, the private sector, including PMFTC, CONLEAF and ULPI led by its president, Winston Uy.

Assisting the NTA administrator for the event were multi-tasking teams led by NTA managers Rex Antonio P. Teoxon of Corplan, Luzveminda Truong of FTSD and Estrella De Peralta of Ilocos Sur – Candon branch office.