It is not easy as an electrical engineer to be taken seriously in the business finance world. My friend and partner, a PhD and professor in business management with his base roots in mechanical engineering, suggested that I get a masters degree in business. I signed up for the UOG PMBA program at 49 years of age to get a professional master in business administration (PMBA). Originally from Germany, this marked was my first experience in an English speaking school. I received a degree in Professional Business Administration with a GPA of 3.6 in August of 2005.
My friend and I were already planting trees for over 10 years and helped the surrounding farmers in rural areas in the Philippines. Over the years we came up with a specific way planting trees that reduces mortality to less than 3%. In 2006, we sat down and discussed possible opportunities to reduce poverty for a larger group of farmers, do something for the environment, and at the same time to turn a profit.
In the business world, only profits count and many companies leave their social responsibilities and moral obligations behind. Companies have to learn that there are more profits to be made by applying the simple rules of Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibilities.
We decided to try to help local farmers by using their bare and unused land by planting trees. My partner and started calling ourselves “Enviropreneurs’” to ensure that the farmers we interacted with understood that we worked in partnership with them and together we worked in an environmentally sustainable manner to achieve our goals. To begin our partnership, we used certain sections of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The second day after announcing our plan we had farmers busting down the door at our office and we had to make an unfavorable decision to send some of the farmers away.
What we do is very simple and straight forward. The farmers are our partners and not our workers. We provide tree seedlings from our own nursery. We pay the farmers for planting, maintaining and cutting the trees, and they receive 1/3 of all profits. This helps them to provide food for their families and to look forward into a brighter future.
Aside from paying them, we also provide a limited number of scholarships and so far we have five college graduates. We also assist with medical support for their little kids to get basic immunizations.
We looked at one area in the very south of Negros for our project with 2,100 people, New People’s Army returnees, who got 8000 hectares from the local government. An area with no running water, electricity and only deep dirt roads that cannot easily be reached; it takes seven hours for them travel to the closest medical clinic. We decided not to use their land, but decided to bring in a doctor and basic medical supplies a few times a year. Thankfully, businesses helped us with the supplies. The farmers there had a problem with a rolling hill that would endanger them all. My friend brought seedlings for free and helped them plant those along the hill to slow erosion.
Now, we have hundreds of thousands of the trees planted in Guimaras but what to do next. We decided to have our own sawmill. We bought two sawmills and two trucks. After approval by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) we opened our own sawmill in early 2008. At first they weren’t sure what to do with us. After a short period of time DENR found out that there is less illegal logging and forest destruction, and if it exists that our farmers are not involved. It is actually the opposite; our farmers are safeguarding the trees. In addition we bought quite some tools and even carabao to haul the trees. By just growing and cutting our own trees, we estimated a return of investment of over 4000%. Spending 15 peso and making 600 pesos doesn’t sounds like much; believe me by adding up all those trees it is.
But as so often in life, there is always something better coming up. We are now working with private power companies to supply them with biomass for the next 20 years in Pangasinan, West Visayas and Isabela. This opportunity would dramatically increase the return of investment with a shorter turnaround of trees and which impacts directly 8000 households.
We have signed contracts for example with a university to utilize at least 1000 hectares of their land in West Visayas. One of the problems the University is facing is increasing operational costs and lack of government funds. The other is the never-ending increasing amount of squatters making the university land their home. The squatter problem is evolving and may at one point result in violence. As soon as we start planting, we proposed to build satellite schools with the university providing teachers and we are providing scholarships to the squatters. Part of the project is to build school furniture. If everything works as plant we are going to start next year with the first 500 hectares, equivalent to 500.000 trees. There are other projects we are working on, but all with the same goal: “Improving the environment and reducing poverty”.
I have learned one very important thing that there is money to be made by helping people. If you are really willing to help them they help you. As of today, we haven’t lost a single farmer or tree but have made some good friends including a Noble Peace Prize winner and a congressman.
We planted on Guimaras for one of the largest fast food chain an “Enviropreneur Training Park” with over 40,000 trees. This park is to be used to train farmers in environmental and the sustainable use of our natural resources.
Our Investment is very small but overall it turns out a profit of several million dollars. There is money growing on trees, and you can watch it grow.