Dumaguit, Gwyn Edmondo A. Agri. Business TTh 9:00-10:00 MAHOGANY FARMINGMany people prefer to grow crops that will give them income as soon as possible. Just likegrowing finger pepper that will start bearing fruit in less than two months, or upland kangkongthat is harvestable in less than a month. They have their own good reasons for choosing suchcrops.However, there are also a few who don’t mind waiting for a long time before they can harvestthe fruit of their labor. Just like Mario Sebastian, 59, who opted to grow mahogany trees in 1992and has been pursuing that project on a fulltime basis since then.Mario used to be a wholesale distributor of agricultural chemicals for a number of years inUrdaneta, Pangasinan. When the going got rough in the early 1990s, however, he decided to gointo growing forest trees. He bought cheap scrubland that was virtually useless to the owners inBrgy. San Vicente, Umingan of the same province. He paid only P250,000 for the first 20hectares. Succeeding purchases of 40 hectares were even cheaper (50 centavos per square meter).In a way, Mario is also fortunate that his junior (nicknamed Eukel) is as passionately interestedin forest trees as his father. He was still a teenager when the project started and was studyingbusiness management at the Ateneo. While at the Ateneo, he helped his father by collectingmahogany seeds from the Ateneo campus for seedling production. Mario said they had thepermission from the Ateneo authorities to gather seeds at the Ateneo campus. After graduation,Eukel has been the constant partner of his father in managing the plantation registered as MarsseTropical Timber Plantations.Today, they are almost through planting the entire 60 hectares in San Vicente. At the last countthey have already planted more than 116,000 trees, including a few thousand teak trees. Theyhave about 12 hectares more to plant which will need more than 30,000 seedlings. Yes, plantingcontinues to this day. The new strategy is to plant more teak trees because this is a specialspecies with a high value. And after finishing planting the 60 hectares, they plan to buy somemore land. One 14 hectare property is being offered at P400,000.Unlike the usual perception,forest trees are not just left to fend for themselves after planting the seedlings in the field. Theyhave to be constantly cared for and managed. That is why father and son practically live on thetree plantation. They have built a towerlike circular building with five floors that serves as theirresidence, guesthouse and office. Their families (Eukel has his own) live in Quezon City, andthey only go to the city once or twice a month to get their provisions. Members of Eukel’sfamily, on the other hand, spend their time at the plantation during school vacation.From the time the plantation is established, the growing trees have to be continuously monitored.Weeds have to be suppressed. Fire has to be prevented, especially during the dry months. Theplants also have to be fertilized, and watered if necessary. And most of all, during the rainyseason when the young trees are robust, some of their leaves have to be removed so their crownwill not bend and so they will grow straight.
Even when the trees are older and bigger, they are constantly pruned. Unnecessary branches arecut off before they become too big so that the timber will not develop undesirable knobs.Eukel said they are encouraging the proliferation of termites in the plantation. They do that bypiling up the tiny twigs in various locations to serve as feed for the termites. That accelerates thedecomposition of the litter in the plantation and so they are turned into organic fertilizer faster.They also make holes in the ground about a meter deep and two feet across. This will catch therain instead of running off the plantation. The holes are also filled with fallen leaves whicheventually turn into organic fertilizer after some time.Mario has observed that since the place has become a forest, the water table has become just afew meters below the surface. In fact a spring has developed. Birds of all types now inhabit theplace and the temperature has gone down to a very comfortable level even during summer.The Sebastians have invested at least P40 million in their project, including a P32 million loanfrom Quedancor. They have not started harvesting their timber because they are not yetharvestable at this time. About ten years more, and they will be harvesting a lot of the big trees.By that time, they will have put up a sawmill right at the plantation so that hauling will not be abig problem.Transporting the lumber instead of whole logs to distant markets will not be a problem. So farthey have been enjoying some cash flow from the prunings of branches which they sell as fuelwood. A buyer gets everything at P17 a bundle which is resold to end users at P22 to P25 perbundle in Urdaneta City. In addition, one businessman from Urdaneta has paid in advanceP500,000 for 48 trees that he will harvest five years from now. He will have the option to choosethe biggest out of the 116,000 trees. He will use the lumber to build his dream house. A traderwho has a quota to export to China has also indicated interest to buy the trees from Sebastian.Meanwhile, Mario had asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2006 foran appraisal of the mahogany trees in his plantation. Would you believe, the estimated value wasis P691,016,350.92? Yes, more than 691 million pesos!Of course, 10 years from now, when most of the trees would have attained much bigger sizes, thevalue could even be more staggering. Oh yes, it takes a long wait for forest trees to mature butthe rewards are unquestionably big.