A forest of furniture
Cheeko B. Ruiz (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Even as a child, Mario Sison Sebastian, Sr. would not buy new notebooks and pencils but would instead use any kind of paper with one side still clean.

He would extend the life of Mongol number 2 pencil stubs, which other people would discard, by connecting them to empty pen cylinders to make them longer and usable again.

He was an environmentalist, a tree lover at heart, long before it became politically correct and fashionable.

“My father always said that paper and pencils come from trees, and we should not waste them,” says daughter Mara Sebastian.

In 1992, Mario Sr., an agriculture businessman, started developing MARSSE Tropical Timber, a sustainable tree farm in Umingan, Pangasinan.

With over 20 years experience in the agriculture industry, he saw the vast loss and potential of the countryside. There were lots of kaingin (slash and burn) barren land that could be developed into tree farms to help address the problem of deforestation in the country, while still turning a profit for the farms’ owners.

Although their father lived only to see the initial harvest from his tree farm, Mara and her brothers Mario Jr. and Marco vowed to continue working toward his vision.

“In our own way, we work towards helping ensure a renewable wood source in the Philippines by advocating sustainable tree farming and conscious wood consumption. We are committed to developing sustainable tree plantations that ensure a future where the need for wood is met in harmony with nature,” says Mara.

She says their business is rooted in the fact that the Philippines only has approximately six to seven percent of its natural forest cover remaining.

In 2011, the Philippines was ranked as the fourth most threatened forest hotspot in the world by Conservation International.

“The solution to the dire state of our forests is not simply reforestation. Wood is a necessary resource, in fact one of the most natural and renewable. The solution is finding balance between the supply of wood and the demand for it. And that is where MARSSE Tropical Timber hopes to help,” Mara says.

The 60-hectare rolling terrain tree plantation now has over 125,000 standing hardwood trees, mainly Honduras mahogany, with a sprinkling of teak, gmelina and other local hardwood trees.

“Our tree farm may be old at 22 years but our wood production business is pretty young, at only about a year old. We waited until the trees were ripe for harvest. It took 29 years because of our location – eight months of drought a year, plus relatively unfertile soil made for slow growing trees,” she says.

“As such, we are a very modest family-operated corporation with 12 employees running the business, managing the farm and producing wooden products. We are located in a community of rice farmers so during non-planting and harvesting months, we are also able to employ them on a contractual basis,” she says.

The raw materials for the company’s sustainably-made brand of wooden products come from their own backyard.

“We grow our own trees and make them into quality wooden flooring, furniture and unique kitchen and home accessories,” Mara says.

She adds that they employ three sustainable forestry practices that keep them grounded as tree farm stewards and mindful as wood producers.

“First, we plant yearly to ensure a yearly harvest. Second, we do not keep a log pile to maximize the environmental benefits of the standing tree. Lastly, we have a ‘no wood wasted’ policy where the entire tree is used – from the leaves, branches, trunk, stump and roots,” Mara shares.

Registered at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as a tree plantation, MARSSE has been awarded the Likas Yaman Award for Responsible Forestry in 2003 and the DENR Likas Yaman Award for Environmental Protection in 2011.

Mara says they believe in the potential of the Philippines to be independent and successful in feeding itself and in managing its rich resources in a sustainable fashion.

“In making these two sectors fashionable, there is the opportunity to uplift the majority of our poor citizens – especially the youth – by enticing them to consider or reconsider the trades of farming, fishing, weaving, wood working and similar trades. Invest heavily on providing them with the necessary skills training for these trades to foster inclusive growth,” Mara says.

This way, the next generation can, just like the trees, grow tall and fulfill their potentials.

CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION LIKAS YAMAN AWARD MARA MARA SEBASTIAN MARIO JR. AND MARCO TREE TROPICAL TIMBER WOOD
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