There was a time when Mindanao, the southern most and second biggest landmass in the Philippines, was covered with lush tropical rainforests thriving with wildlife, and was traversed by rivers teeming with aquatic life. The land was very fertile, the air was clean, food was bountiful, and there was a seemingly unlimited reserve of natural resources. People, plants and animals lived together and nurtured one another in a healthy ecosystem.
In the year 1900, 70% of the Philippines was covered with virgin rainforests – about 210 million hectares which is one third of the existing rainforests of the Amazon today. By the year 1970, the rainforest was down to 34% – about 102 million hectares. And in the past 4 decades, we have continued to wipe out our rainforests leaving only 3% by the year 2000 – about 9 million hectares. In the last 12 years, we have lost more – and are now down to 1.5%, with only about 4.5 million hectares remaining. If this trend is not reversed, we will totally lose all of our remaining rainforest. We are witnessing the desertification of our country.
The result of this desertification is in the drying up of rivers, depriving farms of year-round irrigation or rain fed water for food production. Currently we are the world’s largest rice importer. Furthermore, the sources of water are drying up or being contaminated with salt water intrusion, siltation of seas causing death to coral reefs, and flash floods during the rainy season damaging people’s homes and destroying lives. Despite the vast tracts of land around them, many people in Mindanao are poor and hungry – they are among the poorest and hungriest people in the Philippines.
Bleak as Mindanao’s environmental situation may be, it is still better than in many other parts of the country. With vast areas of land still untapped for agricultural production, a population still less dense than in highly populated Luzon, Mindanao presents great potential for development. It commands bright promise for becoming the Philippines’ food basket, and supplying an even bigger part of the country’s food requirements than the 40 percent it is contributing today.
Hineleban Foundation is working to bring the rainforests of Mindanao back to life – replanting the totally denuded mountain sides, protecting the existing primary rainforests, rehabilitating the watersheds, reviving the rivers, and renewing the cycle of life that feeds the healthy coexistence among people and Mother Nature. Through rainforestation, we not only protect the environment, provide food and livelihood, and promote development, we also empower communities and create socioeconomic states conducive to peace and harmony in the region.