DESPITE TYPHOON LOSSES, PANGASINAN TO REMAIN AS REGION 1 FOOD BASKET

DESPITE TYPHOON LOSSES, PANGASINAN TO REMAIN AS REGION 1 FOOD BASKET

DAGUPAN CITY — After typhoon “Lando” in early October, “Aling Lisa” would sport a long face every time she went to the market to buy vegetables at the Malimgas Public Market in Dagupan City.

And who wouldn’t if the cost of one kilo of table tomato had skyrocketed to P160 from the previous price of the commodity before the typhoon at P50 per kilo.

In the city of Dagupan where vegetables fresh from the farms from the four corners of Pangasinan are being unloaded daily, it is the price of tomato that seems to tell if there is shortage of salad crops.

Pangasinan is an agricultural province with little or no industries to speak of. This is gleaned even from the records of the Social Security System (SSS) which showed that most of its members in the province are self-employed.

Agriculture is the top priority of the provincial government under Governor Amado Espino Jr. He confessed that he too is a farmer and growing crops in his own farm in Bautista is his passion.

In his many speeches, Governor Amado Espino Jr. used to say that the province of Pangasinan will continue to remain an agricultural province for the next 50 years as the lands available for cultivation is not getting any bigger but rather smaller due to continuous land conversion in order to satisfy the needs for housing and urbanization.

That was why the governor continues to encourage farmers to seek improved farming technologies to increase their harvests, practice family planning, and more importantly, send their children to school for them to find careers of their own, so they could leave farming behind.

He asked them, however, to leave even one of their children to take over their farm from them when they get old.

Thus, Espino expressed profound sadness when Typhoon “Lando” left a big swath of destruction on agricultural crops in the province, destroying rice crops in their tillering stage. Vegetables were likewise destroyed and many fruit trees were toppled down.

Records showed the province of Pangasinan–the undisputed vegetable bowl and also the top rice producer in the whole of the Ilocos Region–suffered some P700 million in agricutural crop damages alone.

The damages would have a big impact on the rice production capability of Pangasinan as it is already the third biggest rice producing province in the country today after Nueva Ecija and Isabela. But Nueva Ecija and Isabela were also not spared from the wrath of typhoon “Lando”.

For its continuous success in rice production, the province was adjudged by the Department of Agriculture as winner of the National Rice Achiever’s Award in 2012 and 2014 and was also the National Achiever’s Award for Quality Corn in 2014.

In terms of vegetables, Regional Director Valentin Perdido of the Department of Agriculture gave the Pangasinenses two months or so to wait before the sale of their favorite “pinakbet” vegetables could go back to normal.

“Pinakbet”, an Ilocano favorite dish which comprises a variety of vegetables like eggplant, ampalaya, squash, sweet potato, string beans, tomato, onion and a slew of pork, and salted by “bagoong” (fish sauce).

It is now almost two months after Director Perdido gave his prognosis about vegetables becoming visible again and seemingly he was right as some of those that Pangasinenses sorely missed in their dining table are back.

As of the third week of December, it seems that happy days are here again for the indomitable farmers of Pangasinan. By Christmas, it is expected that the public markets will be loaded again with lots of fresh vegetables.

This somewhat stabilized the prices of vegetables in the market, giving “Aling Lisa” and other housewives with just shoestring budget for food, a reason to be happy.

Now, tomato costs P70 per kilo and is expected to further lower at from P40 to P50 per kilo if the bigger bulk of the bumper harvest arrives in the market.

Observers say this is one proof of the industry and unrelenting spirit of the province’s farmers and the undiminished fertility of the soil in the province.

Aling Lisa might no longer be squirming when she goes to the market. The few pesos in her wallet can now buy more agricultural products than what it could buy less than two months ago.

A week after “Lando”, Director Perdido came to Pangasinan and together with Governor Espino distributed 4,725 kilograms of mungbeans and seeds of lowland vegetables like the yard-long string beans, pechay, okra, hot pepper and others.

Onion farmers from Bayambang and Bautista towns received 300 cans or 120,000 kilos of red onions and shallot seeds to enable them to replace their crops destroyed by the flood.

Also distributed later were certified rice seeds and if used immediately and properly by farmers, they would be harvesting palay before the drought sets in next year.

The year 2015 also saw the introduction in Pangasinan farms of the planting of garlic and of passion fruit in commercial quantity, a move which could hopefully end the sominirion of Ilocos Norte on these two commodities.

On drought, Director Perdido said that if farmers will request for cloud-seeding to trigger rains, his office will course their request to the proper agencies as he did in past droughts.

The provincial government will make its own initiatives to provide water to the fields. This year, it has set aside P100 million for the construction of 32 communal irrigation systems costing P56.28 million that can irrigate 497 hectares of land; and the installation of 1,000 shallow tube wells capable of irrigating 1,837 hectares at P43.7 million.

Pangasinan is fortunate that the board of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) finally approved in mid-2015 the construction of the P2.6-billion Agno River Service Extension Project (ARISEP) that will irrigate 10,557 hectares of land in San Nicolas, Tayug, Sta. Maria, Rosales, Sto. Tomas, Alcala and San Manuel.

The project is starting in January next year, former Senator Francis Pangilinan, former presidential assistant for food and agricultural modernization, said in his recent visit in Pangasinan.

But sadly as the biggest province in Region 1 in both area and population, poverty level is also admittedly quite high as shown in the survey commissioned by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

This is, however, being addressed squarely by the provincial as well as the national governments as shown by the drastic reduction in the number of families considered poor for the past eight years as compared in the past. Leonardo V. Micua/PNA