FAITH, HOPE, CHARITY: Building a coastal economy

BY IKE SEÑERES

COMMON sense will tell us that having one of the longest tropical coastlines in the world (we are second only to Indonesia) gives us not only the competitive advantage of producing goods that are practically unique to us, but it also gives us the comparative advantage of being able to produce these goods at relatively lower prices.

Since it appears that no one has actually defined what a “coastal economy” is, I will now take the initiative of defining it, at least from my own perspective.

To begin with, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce (USDOC), has already declared that their coastlines that are along their adjacent oceans (Pacific and Atlantic) and along their Great Lakes is their “Economic Engine.” Somehow, this notion is similar to what I already wrote that combined areas of our own coastlines could actually be the “Holy Grail” of our national economy.

I find it interesting that the NOAA (which is the equivalent of our own PAGASA agency) is under the USDOC and not under their equivalent of our own Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Actually, the United States does not have a DOST. What they have instead is the National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency that was created by the US Congress to promote the progress of science, among other functions.

In the absence of a clear explanation, I would just venture to guess that the US government considers oceanic and atmospheric administration as a function that affects American business and the American economy, and they are apparently in the right direction.

I also find it interesting that the NOAA has also declared that the economies of their coastlines are dependent on healthy coastal ecosystems.

As a first step, I would rather start by defining “where” the coastal economy is located, instead of already defining “what” it is.

Where the coastal economy is located is easier to define, because all we have to do is to multiply the total length of our coastlines (36,289 kilometers) by 15 meters, which is the easement area from the shore going inland, as defined by law.

Add to that the size of the seaward area that could be derived by multiplying 36, 289 kilometers by 15 kilometers, the legal definition of what comprises the so-called “municipal waters.”

There could actually be a bigger area going seaward, because the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has declared that the measurement of “municipal waters” should be reckoned from the outermost island, a rule that allows islands that are located more than 30 kilometers from the mainland to have their own “municipal waters.”

Now that we have defined “where” the coastal economy is located, we could go ahead and define “what” it is. This is actually easier said than done, but I could start by saying that the coastal economy is the entire network of producers, distributors and consumers within the combined areas of the “green zones” (the land area going inland up to 15 meters) and the “blue zones” (the water area going seaward up to 15 kilometres).

Needless to say, the “green zones” are the areas that are suitable for agriculture, while the “blue zones” are the areas that are suitable for aquaculture. This does not have to be a hard and fast rule, because it is also possible to do aquaculture inland (for example fishponds) and to do agriculture seaward (for example duck raising).

Unlike in the United States where they only have oceans, we have the advantage of also having seas in between our islands and in between our northern neighbors (for example Taiwan) and our southern neighbors (for example Indonesia).

By comparison, we could say that the seas are easier to “tame” compared to the oceans, meaning to say that it is easier to make the seas productive. Just like the United States however, we should also include the coastlines of our “Great Lakes” in the coastal economy.

As I understand it, the easement area from the coast of the lakes going inland is also 15 meters, and all the waters inside the lakes belong to the public domain. Sad to say, many of the coastal areas around the lakes have already become private properties even if these are within the easement areas, and most of the waters inside the lakes have been monopolized by some private interests.

Salt water and the salinity it creates is the common denominator between the “green zones” and the “blue zones”. It is easy to understand how salt water and salinity could be used in the “blue zones”, but it will take more efforts to explain how these could be put to good use in the “green zones.”

By the way, the lowly mangrove is the other common denominator between the “green zones” and the “blue zones”, because it not only grows inland, it also grows seaward.

It could also be said that the mangrove actually falls under the category of agriculture, but it is the key to the success of aquaculture along the coastlines.

I wrote earlier that wherever there are mangrove trees, the planktons come back and when the planktons come back, the fish come back along with the crabs, the shrimps and the clams.

There are several trees and grasses that are either saline dependent or saline tolerant, as the case may be.

Aside from mangroves, the other trees that are known to be saline dependent are the coconut trees and the talisay trees.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is actually advocating the intercropping of coconut trees and cacao trees, and it is good to know that cacao trees are also saline tolerant.

Where there are cacao trees planted, it would also be good to plant kakawate (or Madre de Cacao), a tree that is not related to the cacao species, but is the tree that provides natural shade to the cacao, that is why it is known as the “Mother of Cocoa).

You guessed it right, kakawate is also saline tolerant. Imagine how much economic value this friendly trio of coconut, cacao and kakawate could create.

By classification, a bamboo “tree” is actually a grass in the same way that rice is also a grass. Common sense would tell us that where grasses could grow, bamboo and upland rice could also grow, particularly the varieties that do not need irrigation.

In the case of the varieties that would need irrigation, sea water could be used if these varieties are saline tolerant. Wherever bamboo is planted, it would be good to plant talisay trees as a buffer to protect the young bamboo from salt water spray.

The fruits of the talisay trees are known as “sea almonds”, products that could possibly compete with macadamia nuts. Just like the mangroves, the branches of the talisay trees could be harvested periodically to produce firewood and charcoal.

When combined, the cuttings and trimmings from the mangrove trees, talisay trees, kakawate trees and the bamboos could be the source of fuels for small dendro thermal power plants within the “green zones.”

By definition, dendro means anything and everything that comes from wood sources. Any kind of cellulosic material could be used as fuel for gasifier power plants, such as leaves and grasses. In that sense, gasifier power plants would be the same as dendro thermal plants if branches are used as fuels.

Either way, what is important is these power plants could provide the cheaply produced local energy that is needed in enabling the coastal economy to have a comparative advantage. (Email bantaygobyerno- [email protected] or text +639369198429)/PN