Automobiles and the environment are inevitably intertwined. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization quantifies the strength of this interrelationship: In 2006, it ranked the transport industry the third most significant contributor of global atmospheric greenhouse gases (14 percent), after energy production (21 percent) and the production of livestock such as beef, poultry, and pork (18 percent).
The data only strengthens the fact that automobiles of all shapes and sizes, in the hundreds of millions, have become perhaps among the most dominant “life-forms” on this planet. These metal beasts, given birth by humans barely over a century ago, with their insatiable appetites for greenhouse gas-causing fossil fuels, have influenced and shaped ecosystems the world over.
Recently, the world’s leading automakers have tried to lessen their offsprings’ carbon footprints by engaging in corporate practices involving the environment, or investing in manufacturing and engine technologies aimed to mitigate the effects of their products and processes. While one automaker may be busy planting trees, another would be designing an engine that would someday do away with fossil fuels altogether.
Rare is the auto manufacturer that does both seriously.
Six years ago, Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC) began to undertake a project that would reforest a large, denuded mountainside of the Sierra Madre range in northern Luzon, in an attempt to replicate its successful reforestation projects in other parts of the world, like China and Japan.
In 2007, the 2,500-hectare Philippine Peñablanca Sustainable Reforestation Project (PPSRP), situated about 20 kilometers from Tuguegarao City in Cagayan province, began in earnest with an infusion of $3 million from TMC.
The project, the largest of its kind an automaker has undertaken in the Philippines, would take six years to complete and would ultimately reforest five of the 24 barangays of Peñablanca town: San Roque, Sisim, Bugatay, Cabasan and Mangga.
The reforested area was seen to help bring balance to the valley’s ecosystem brought to disarray by generations of slash-and-burn farming. The new forest cover was also seen to enhance the productivity of Cagayan Valley as a key agricultural region. Forested watersheds would better temper and nourish the country’s longest and largest river.
On July 18, 2013, right on schedule, TMC concluded the PPSRP via a turnover ceremony at the Roma Hotel in Tuguegarao City. Conservation International (CI), which was appointed by TMC to implement the project—revealed that the project was awarded “Gold Level” validation by Climate Community & Biodiversity standards.
At the turnover, CI also reported a reforestation area of 1,300 ha, enhancement planting of 470 ha and agroforestry development of 700 ha.
Making an impact
Forester Juan R. Acay Jr., forestry and carbon project manager of CI Philippines, reiterated that the project objectives included avoiding deforestation, recovering vegetation, improving household income, creating reforestation funds that will make an impact on biodiversity and creating watersheds.
Acay reported that the project successfully reduced unregulated cutting by inhabitants and reduced the areas damaged by kaingin (slash-and-burn). The project had also relocated the grazing cattles outside the area of PPRSP, resulting in “reduction of stray animals to nearly zero.”
Acay revealed that the general average sustained survival rate for vegetation in the 1,330 ha had been 52 percent as of November 2011. The priority area survival rates during the full count/inventory as of June 2013 was 93 percent for kakawate and other indigenous plants.
The team, which consisted of CI Philippines foresters and barangay residents and officials, also adopted a nursery, and instilled planting and maintenance practices appropriate for indigenous reforestation species.
The participants in the five barangays of Peñablanca were able to identify and plant the top six indigenous species with high survival and growth suitable to the site: narra, molave, tindalo, maranangka, kalumpit and tuai.
Acay also showed the numbers as recorded from the project impact assessment’s monitoring sites: Up to 361 species of flora (24 of which were endemic, 11 threatened and five threatened endemics); up to 141 bird species (with up to 52 endemic and 4 threatened endemics); up to 19 bat species (with four or five endemics).
Reduced firewood use
Citing data gathered this May, Acay noted that an alternative stove (called the Natomo super kalan), introduced by the team to 224 households, reduced firewood consumption of the five barangays by up to 27 kilograms weekly.
Reforestation also improved the income of households. Salvita Gallibu, chair of a farmers’ cooperative in Barangay Sisim, revealed that her group earned a net profit of P31,952 for 120 days from the 126 newly grafted mango trees. The new trees bore 2,250 kg of fruits harvested by 17 farmers in her group. The cooperative had a gross profit from sales of P38,446. The cost of producing and maintaining the mango trees (P2,650), and the group’s own contribution to the Peñablanca reforestation fund (10 percent of the cooperative’s earnings, or P3,845), were deducted from the gross.
Cumulatively, the four cooperatives of the five barangays earned a combined net income of P134,333 from their mango plantations.
Gallibu said she was thankful for the PPSRP. “We learned a lot of techniques in harvesting and marketing mangos. We even learned to save money to be able to deposit for our reforestation fund,” she said.
“It’s not just the economic gains for this project that should be measured, but more of the capability building on the community, which would not be lost, hopefully,” said Restituta V. Antolin, chief of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Rep. Randolph Ting accepted from TMC and CI the turnover of responsibility for the project.
Antolin acknowledged that Toyota’s financial support was the key to the project. “$3 million is a big help, because our sector always receives one of the lowest funds compared to other sectors in the DENR, so we need assistance from outside. This project helped a lot in the capability-building, mapping, registration and development of the site.”
Toyota embarking on a project so far removed from the limelight in Manila only reinforces the carmaker’s reputation as a risk-taker. It was Toyota which trailblazed the industry green trend in the Philippines by introducing its hybrid sedan Prius to the country in 2009, at a time when no signs of tax incentives were in the offing for bringing in such vehicles.
It also brought in the Prius C in 2012, while its luxury brand Lexus is, as yet, the only brand with a full lineup of hybrid vehicles (the CT 200h, RX 450h, GS 450h, LS 600hL) in the country. All these at a time when sales of hybrid vehicles in this country have been quite sluggish (less than 100 Prius units have been sold since its introduction, a virtual drop in the bucket compared to the millions of Prius sedans sold globally).
On its 25th year in the Philippines, Toyota soldiers on, laying its “green” cards on the table at the ongoing World of Toyota Motor Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. The motor show features, among others, two concept cars: the hydrogen-powered FCV-R and the Lexus LF-LC (designed to run on an advanced hybrid system).
The Toyota plant in Santa Rosa City, Laguna, with its 14-ha Eco Forest and a world-class wastewater treatment plant, and the Ecoful Town in Toyota City in Japan reveal the carmaker’s ultimate direction when it comes to environment-friendly motoring: awareness, concern, and action for the environment should, and must, continue outside the comfortable confines of the cabin.
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