Forest Trees : Mahogany – Long Wait But Big Returns
Many people prefer to grow crops that will give them income as soon as possible. Just like growing finger pepper that will start bearing fruit in less than two months, or upland kangkong that is harvestable in less than a month. They have their own good reasons for choosing such crops.
However, there are also a few who don’t mind waiting for a long time before they can harvest the fruit of their labor. Just like Mario Sebastian, 59, who opted to grow mahogany trees in 1992 and 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 in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. When the going got rough in the early 1990s, however, he decided to go into growing forest trees. He bought cheap scrubland that was virtually useless to the owners in Brgy. San Vicente, Umingan of the same province. He paid only P250,000 for the first 20 hectares. 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 interested in forest trees as his father. He was still a teenager when the project started and was studying business management at the Ateneo. While at the Ateneo, he helped his father by collecting mahogany seeds from the Ateneo campus for seedling production. Mario said they had the permission 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 Marsse Tropical Timber Plantations.
Today, they are almost through planting the entire 60 hectares in San Vicente. At the last count they have already planted more than 116,000 trees, including a few thousand teak trees. They have about 12 hectares more to plant which will need more than 30,000 seedlings. Yes, planting continues to this day. The new strategy is to plant more teak trees because this is a special species with a high value. And after finishing planting the 60 hectares, they plan to buy some more 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. They have to be constantly cared for and managed. That is why father and son practically live on the tree plantation. They have built a towerlike circular building with five floors that serves as their residence, guesthouse and office. Their families (Eukel has his own) live in Quezon City, and they only go to the city once or twice a month to get their provisions. Members of Eukel’s family, 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. The plants also have to be fertilized, and watered if necessary. And most of all, during the rainy season when the young trees are robust, some of their leaves have to be removed so their crown will not bend and so they will grow straight.
Even when the trees are older and bigger, they are constantly pruned. Unnecessary branches are cut 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 by piling up the tiny twigs in various locations to serve as feed for the termites. That accelerates the decomposition 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 the rain instead of running off the plantation. The holes are also filled with fallen leaves which eventually turn into organic fertilizer after some time.
Mario has observed that since the place has become a forest, the water table has become just a few meters below the surface. In fact a spring has developed. Birds of all types now inhabit the place 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 loan from Quedancor. They have not started harvesting their timber because they are not yet harvestable 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 a big problem.
Transporting the lumber instead of whole logs to distant markets will not be a problem. So far they have been enjoying some cash flow from the prunings of branches which they sell as fuel wood. A buyer gets everything at P17 a bundle which is resold to end users at P22 to P25 per bundle in Urdaneta City. In addition, one businessman from Urdaneta has paid in advance P500,000 for 48 trees that he will harvest five years from now. He will have the option to choose the biggest out of the 116,000 trees. He will use the lumber to build his dream house. A trader who 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 for an appraisal of the mahogany trees in his plantation. Would you believe, the estimated value was is 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, the value could even be more staggering. Oh yes, it takes a long wait for forest trees to mature but the rewards are unquestionably big.