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Plant thieves wash the forests to satisfy Filipinos with leaf hunger

(Bloomberg) – The pandemic sparked a wave of theft in the Philippines. The goal? Plants.

The government has stepped up social media surveillance and patrolling protected areas amid reports of traders plundering mountains and forests for plants, including endangered species, to respond to a sudden surge in demand for locked Filipinos who crave greenery in their homes. .

“Illegal collectors and collectors are making a fiesta because the market is bigger and prices are more attractive,” said Rogelio Demalete, an ecosystem specialist at the National Bureau for Biodiversity Management. “People buy and grow plants because of the boredom of quarantine.”

Carnivorous pitchers and steel trees, popular in bonsai crafts, are in demand, Demalete said. The bureau’s agents, hampered by quarantine restrictions, are working with the National Bureau of Investigation to catch illegal collectors and traders of “vulnerable” and “endangered” species such as Alocasia Zebrina and Alocasia Sanderiana.

White leaves

Ordinary plants such as caladiums, rubber trees and ferns are sold in legal nurseries for 35% to 40% more than before Covid, according to Win Marcela, an amateur who spends more time caring for his garden. The mature Monstera Deliciosa, or Swiss cheese plant, now yields at least 3,000 pesos ($ 62), compared to less than 800 pesos before. Other social media enthusiasts say the demand for the rare whitish subspecies Deliciosa Albo is so high that they are estimated at 7,000 pesos per leaf.

Even as the government began easing the blockade, which was lifted in the capital last month after a spike in new Covid cases, the green fever has prompted some entrepreneurs to switch to or add gardening after their existing businesses fell victim to the effects of the virus.

Marvin Braceros, the chef behind the Philippine restaurant Yum in Milan, had to close his fancy restaurant in a shopping center in Manila earlier this year when his customers disappeared. In a small space offered to him by the mall owner to help him recover some of his losses, he began selling houseplants. He now has stalls in two malls and plans to open seven more by October.

“I was surprised by the answer,” Braceros said. “I think this is due to the need for positive vibrations and stress relief. I don’t think it’s just fashion. People are more aware of a healthy lifestyle. “

The desire to have something alive to take care of in an apartment has increased sales of houseplants in other cities facing blockages. Even before the pandemic, there was a growing trend among millennials to raise “plant babies” in cities such as New York and London. But the demand for greenery in Manila is particularly astounding. One of the most populous cities in the world, with more than 27,000 people per square mile, it is also one of the largest, with about 23 million people sandwiched between the mountains and the Gulf of Manila.

The need for nature helps established wholesalers such as Bulacan Garden Corp. to experience a decline in business from their traditional customers who are shaping new developments or offering hotels and offices. While wholesale sales have more than halved, the daily flow of people buying three to five pieces has kept the two stores in Manila at Bulacan Garden, said store manager Ricky Santiago.

“A lot of people have nowhere to go and nothing to do during the lock, so they grow plants to fill the time,” Santiago said. “Retailers do not replace the lost volume of orders, but they help us and many others stay in survival mode.”

Demand from the capital extends to small operators in the suburbs around the huge expansion of the city of Manila. Jeffrey Kabida, who helps run a backyard kindergarten 85km (53 miles) south of the capital, says most of its sales now come from Manila with eight orders from a year ago. “They buy so much that some plants run out of stock,” he said.

“We are surprised by the increase,” Santiago said. “We can’t help but wonder, because these are not consumables. This is not a food you can eat. “

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