Haste makes waste.
This is what happened to the Philippine government’s National Greening Program (NGP) or reforestation program which failed to meet its 1.50 million hectare target by 88 percent, with forest cover only resulting in a paltry increase of 177,441 hectares in the last five years, according to the latest report from the Commission on Audit (COA).
Based on a 117-page COA Performance Audit Report on the NGP released on Friday, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources forced itself to meet the 1.50 million-hectare target, prompting the agency to:
- impose ambitious targets on its field officers even though the latter had been very vocal about not being able to handle the load;
- proceed with the program without conducting proper survey, mapping and planning; and
- include far untenured areas even though they had not found people’s organizations that were ready to manage it.
“Instead of accelerating reforestation, fast-tracking only opened the program to waste. Forest cover yielded a marginal increase of 177,441 hectares after five years of implementation. It could not be expected that the forest cover would increase significantly because the seedlings are not surviving,” state auditors said.
COA also noted that the seedlings that did survive hardly made any dent in the reforestation initiatives since these did not grow enough to make a forest cover.
“For seedlings that survive, chances are, these are timber, coffee, cacao, or any other agroforestry species. After maturity, timbers are harvested. As for coffee, cacao, or any other agroforestry species, these are not even considered species that contribute to forest cover,” COA said.
“With forest cover at 7,014,154 hectares or 41.50 percent of what it was in 1934, reforestation remains an urgent concern. However, this does not mean that the government has to hurry implementing the program. DENR must pace the implementation of the program according to available resources.”
Likewise, COA lamented that about 50 percent of the NGP sites were untenured. As such, people’s organizations tend to look for work elsewhere at the end of term of the maintenance and protection contracts, leaving the NGP sites without caretakers.
DENR had argued that the seedlings that survived were still beneficial since these species of trees contributed to carbon sequestration.
State auditors, however, disagreed. “There is no mechanism to gauge the positive contribution because the DENR has not developed a measurement framework yet,” said the COA .
Based on DENR records and standards, a people’s organization awarded a contract to plant fast-growing species of trees in a 100-hectare NGP site would need a budget of P1.345 million in three years to plant 500 seedlings of trees.
On the other hand, the DENR had outlined four ways seedlings could have been procured under the program:
- community-managed procurement in Locally Funded Projects;
- seedling donations from partners;
- mechanized nursery; and
- regular procurement.
The DENR established 11 Mechanized Nurseries across the country, costing the government ?110.6 million for its establishment. Moreover, the maintenance cost of all 11 Mechanized Nurseries costs ?55 million a year.
But despite the cost, COA said that the number of Mechanized Nurseries was not enough to make significant gains.
“The seedlings produced through the mechanized nurseries are distributed by the DENR to the people’s organizations for free. The problem is that the scope of operations of the mechanized nurseries is limited to the respective geographic locations; hence, a limited number of people’s organizations benefit from it,” COA said.
State auditors also called out DENR over making changes in terms of spacing for the seedlings, considering that in the case of fast-growing species, like Falcata, the spacing was changed from 4m x 5m spacing to 2m x 3m spacing—a move that also increased the number of seedlings per hectare from 500 to 1,667. As a result, the cost of seedling production per hectare increased from ?500,000 per hectare to ?1,333,600 per hectare or had risen by 266 percent.
While state auditors agreed with the DENR’s position that the reforestation initiative provided upland farmers with employment, the COA countered that fast-tracking the NGP caused the people’s organizations to miss the opportunity to benefit from seedling production.
“Because there is a target to meet, people’s organizations had no time to produce the seedlings themselves. As a result, they have no choice but to have the contract bidded out to qualified private suppliers,” COA added.
COA thus suggested that the government strengthen the seedling production of people’s organizations since, based on COA’s interviews with these organizations, profits from seedling production was key to their success as it enabled them to use the profits as capital to build additional income streams.
“Had all people’s organizations benefitted from the opportunity from seedling production, there would be more successful organizations and lesser beneficiaries that are solely dependent on the program,” COA pointed out.
Given the findings, COA urged the DENR to proceed with the program by turning it into a community-centered initiative instead of a target driven initiative to prevent wastage.
Included in COA’s recommendations were:
- adjusting targets based on the capacity of the field offices;
- making Community Organizing a prerequisite before proceeding with the NGP contract;
- ensuring that the people’s organizations are the ones who will benefit from the seedling production by conducting technical training on seedling production, holding off the program in the areas until the organizations are capable of producing the seedlings themselves;
- adjusting timelines for seedling production to give people’s organizations time to produce the seedlings;
- increasing efforts on forging private sector partnerships;
- issuing clear guidelines on how to forge partnerships at the local level;
- documenting all partnerships by having the field offices submit a list of their partners and their respective contributions;
- issuing harvesting guidelines which centers on sustainable forest management;
- issuing the revised Monitoring and Evaluation Framework; and
- improving data reliability.
COA’s Performance Audit Report on reforestation program was signed by Director 4 Emelita Quirante of COA’s Performance Audit Office, Special Services Sector. — DVM, GMA News