Gusto po naming maging man-made forest ang buong Gabriella.”

This seemingly-impossible dream was the motivation of Antonio Agnapin, an NGP beneficiary in Gabriela Silang in Diffun town, as he looks forward to seeing his community live with a renewed and sustained environment.

Prior to the establishment of their 115-hectare NGP site in 2012, residents of barangay Gabriela Silang used to cultivate land in the forest areas that served as their primary source of living. Having corns replace trees to hold the soil, erosions usually took place, creeping close to their homes.

Gabriela Masipag Farmers (GAMAFA) Producers Cooperative President Medy Lacaden vividly remembers how he, for one, tried to unconsciously destroy the forest for the sake of his family’s survival. But with a grateful heart, he said if NGP did not happen, not only his family but their community must have been buried by now.

The converted forest lands were slowly regained by planting different tree species such as Narra, Gmelina, rambutan, citrus, mango, cacao, coffee and other agro-forestry species. Not only have these brought stronger hold to the soil and fresher air to the community but these have also kept food in every household’s table.

Members of the GAMAFA Producers Cooperative were able to generate income through the livelihood assistance provided in partnership with other government agencies. The Department of Agriculture granted the cooperative with sets of coffee production equipment to help process and market their NGP plantation’s coffee produce. Trainings on business management and marketing were provided by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The cooperative also ventured into small scale furniture making using Gmelina lumber from their plantations. Not only the cooperative is benefited from this business but also the community of women in Gabriela since they also take part in the furnishing or post-production process in furniture making.

Aside from environmental benefits, NGP has been bringing economic success to the community in Gabriela for years. But not until the challenge of COVID-19 pandemic came. People’s Organization President Lacaden admitted they were a bit struggling since their market went tight. To bring light to the situation, the DENR has looked for bridges to keep the cooperative’s businesses running. The agency established linkages with coffee producer’s federations and furniture shops outside the cooperative that now help in sustaining the PO members’ livelihood.

Antonio and Medy cannot deny the enormous benefits that NGP has been bringing to their community. “Dati nahihirapan kaming makabili ng bigas pang-kain sa ilang araw pero ngayon may stock na kami,” expressed Medy. Both of them including their co-members could not even believe they are able to send their children to school now.

In return, NGP beneficiaries in Gabriela continue being aggressive in producing more seedlings for the further expansion of their plantations. Antonio said they wanted more members of the community be benefitted by NGP. In fact, from 70 members since the organization’s establishment, they are now 84.

The dream of transforming the whole 3,175 –hectare Gabriela into a forest may seem impossible but Antonio, Medy and their entire organization are optimistic that through NGP, their hard work and cooperation, better lives and environment are already ahead of them.#