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Plant Trees to Raise People: Introducing a New Cultural Survival Special Project

On the island of Mindanao, the last virgin rainforest in the Philippines struggles to remain alive. Mindanao is also the ancestral home of the Higaonon, a never conquered or colonized tribal people who still maintain a distinct dialect. Upholding ancestral customary laws, retaining ancient traditions, and living in harmony with one another, the Higaonon respect their rainforest with a reverence similar to prayer. As Higaonon tribal leader Datu Efren Mandipensa expresses it, "Every morning I whisper `Peace' to the trees. It passes from tree to tree throughout the forest."

Forest stewards for centuries, the Higaonon have fought long and hard to protect their rainforest. During recent decades, however, they have been plagued by the encroachment of commercial and illegal loggers and lowland farmers. The latter, who practice slash and burn agriculture, have helped to destroy approximately 500,000 hectares of land surrounding the Higaonon's virgin rainforest.

Now, Higaonon leaders are springing into action with a community reforestation plan. In January of this year, they designed a pilot project to reforest 30 hectares. With support from Round Up for the Rainforest and New England BioLabs, this initial project was implemented successfully. Higaonon seek additional funding to complete the next step of their design: they want to create a buffer zone around 100 hectares of their virgin forest, to protect and preserve it.

How will they do it? Their idea is to plant each hectare with 100 Durian seedlings. Durian is a native watershed tree; it has a deep root system to prevent erosion, and it replenishes the lost nutrients in the soil. The tree is also fruit bearing, so it can provide a food source for the tribe.

The elders have an ingenious plan: Plant people to raise trees! Higaonon families will move into the area to nurture and protect the seedlings. Their presence will also deter any illegal logging activities from further degrading the forest. Companion crops, such as bananas, corn, and taro, will be planted between the seedlings to produce the necessary cooling effect and to provide sustenance for the families in these over-logged areas.

As the soil is replenished by the Durian and the other crops, a natural biodiversity will occur. When dormant seeds from the nearby rainforest sprout, they will be nurtured and encouraged to grow. Eventually, the bananas and companion crops will be replaced by the rich biodiversity of the mother forest, and plant forms not found in other parts of the Philippines will flourish.

This new forest will become a sanctuary for several native species of wildlife. For example, the Philippine Eagle, which, with a wing span of seven feet, is considered the world's largest eagle, will be protected.

The project's short range goal, of reforesting 30 hectares, has been met. Once the medium rangle goal of planting 100 hectares is accomplished, the Higaonon will attempt to plant the entire area of 500,000 logged hectares of ancestral domain. Eventually, and with your help, the beautiful and invaluable rainforest of the Philippines will be restored.

Listen again to the words of Datu Efren Mandipensa:

What will happen to the Earth if my rainforest is cut down? There are not many rainforests left. The Earth needs my rainforest. It is vital to the rest of the planet, for the planet's survival.

How can you help? $4 will buy one Durian seedling. Contributions may be made in any amount, and even small amounts will be very helpful. $480 will pay for the clearing and plowing of one hectare and the planting and nurturing of 100 seedlings. Your contribution will provide food for the family who will maintain the hectare until their companion crops are ready to harvest (in approximately six months). If everyone works together, soon we will be able to raise $8,873 for 20 hectares, and in no time at all, we will have the $50,000 we need to plant the entire 100 hectares. We can atttain our goal and we can complete this project through the dedication and support of people like you! You join local and international communities when you support the Higaonon's project.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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