LA TRINIDAD, Benguet—Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) provinces continues to spike offer to Filipinos, domestic and foreign visitors their heirloom rice, as a rice –based ecotourism come-on, one among CAR’s cultural cornerstone in the highland agro-ecosystem, in foot lock with the food security and food sovereignty vision of President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos, even as the President and con-current Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary reins tight leash on unnecessary food importation.
Heirloom rice varieties, grown for centuries by the indigenous tribal folks in Cordillera highlands, are appreciated by no less than agricultural and nutrition experts for their significant historical, cultural and aesthetic values.
Some Filipino anthropologists, in exploring the complexities of highland agricultural ethnicity often stumble into the pit of employing a stain of “socio-political discourses” in their approaches towards the topic.
But the late and distinguished rural sociologist and Filipino national scientist Gelia Castillo clearly departed from this obtrusive discourse.
For love of heirloom rice and heirloom rice farmers, Castillo, during a forum with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the DA, said: “I want to meet them (the heirloom farmers) and ask, did you make money from heirloom rice? If they say yes, I will be very happy. But if they say no, I will go after you.” (She meant the IRRI and DA representatives present during the forum).
Castillo was merely expressing Cordillera sentiment that preservation of their heirloom rice and other traditional farming methods are important expressions of the highlander agricultural identity and community values.
In fact, when heirloom rice and other upland rice varieties happen not to find their way to commercial markets and thus unsold, any observer can usually find these stored in a place called “agamang” by highlanders, a place to store grains.
For the northern Ilocano, “agamang” means “sarusar,” and called “garung” by the people of La Union.
These agamang (granaries) mean to the highlanders that there will always be food on the table or grains to be sold for future use. To them these are food security and food sovereignty.
Marcos, when he decided to take over the helms of DA, happens to be a keen scholar on “Food Security Impact on Governance” concept, which holds a view that sturdy agricultural systems guaranteeing food security for the population redounds to achieving aims of governance and fosters greater civic participation and effective rule of law, according to political observers.
A recent study titled “Preserving Cultural Heritage through the Valorization of Cordillera heirloom Rice in the Philippines,” and released October of 2020, noted there is need for “proper information framing” to generate product demand, as well as to support “valorization of heirloom rice” to ensure its cultural heritage and its in situ biodiversity.
Valorization is a government initiative of maintaining the price of a certain product/s and often applied during specific circumstance. For example, rice and other basic commodities commercially purchased by consumers are under strict and universal observation and monitoring by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
One may mistakenly attach such words like, “tinawon,” “ulikan,” “mina-angan,” “jekot,” or “hungduan,” to names or surnames of indigenous tribal folks. They are not. These are names of the many heirloom rice varieties grown in CAR.
In Benguet Province, heirloom rice varieties grown are the “balatinaw,” “bongkitan,” “lasbakan,” “kabal,” “talangkay” and “lablabi,” the Benguet Provincial Agriculturist Office revealed.
Ifugao Province boasts of its “cabluy,” “pinidwa,” “fha’lar,” “minaangan,” “imbuukan,” “innawi,” “pinidwa,” “pingkitan,” “ingngudpul” and “dona-al,” the Ifugao Provincial Agriculturist Office said.
Kalinga Province swells with its own “ralag,” “alig/tilupong,” “intan/ulikan” (white), “unoy” (red), “allugit/sinuking/yonga,” “unoy” (white), “waray/walay,” and “kintan/intan ulikan” (red), the Kalinga provincial Agriculturist office noted.
Mountain province has eleven varieties, namely, “ulikan” (red), “kotinaw/engopor,” “kinogoong/intan,” (red), “ominion/manmansa/balatinaw,” “bangloan,” “saliket,” “puliki,” “waray/walay,” “koril,” “chor-chor-os,” “gomiki,” “gilgilang/akangan,” and “sungduan,” the Mountain Province Agriculturist Office said.
Such varieties have already been listed in the Cordillera Heirloom Rice Geographical Indication (GI) which pinpoints specifics as to their geographical origin and nowhere else. The Cordillera Rice Heirloom Rice GI directly links the varieties to places of origin in (CAR).
As such, the GI recognizes only the Cordilleras, in the provinces of Mountain Province, Kalinga, Benguet and Ifugao as sources of heirloom rice.
Review of the Cordillera heirloom rice was facilitated by DA-CAR, together with the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) and placed in the Book of Specifications (BOS), the BOS required for registration in the GI.
DA-CAR and FAO experts explained adoption of the GI provides for better value appreciation of heirloom rice and extends protection for the promotion of origin-linked products. While the Heirloom Rice Project is an initiative prior to national legal framework for GI in the Philippines.
It brings back the concern of Castillo of her desire to raise productivity and enriching legacy of heirloom rice by empowering communities that grow them and increasing commercial gains of the growers.
Continuous cultivation of heirloom rice, aside from the traditional highland rice varieties, has been offering additional economic possibilities in CAR, enabling communities to engage in what is newly called “rice-based eco-tourism.”
To go about such venture, DA-CAR and FAO experts talked about social marketing, on the concept of creating demand-side interventions strategies for valorization of heirloom rice.
Social marketing concept is what the experts have pointed out. Social marketing is a powerful tool for business of all types to reach out to prospective buyers. It allows people to discover and learn of any new product.
In this age of SocMed (social media), the experts pointed out that social marketing concept for heirloom rice can avail of platforms like Facebook, Linkleadln, Instagram or Messenger through content strategy.
There were three interventions for social marketing of heirloom rice discussed by experts. First, is the so-called “place branding concept,” referring to embedding physical geography and culture information in the packaged heirloom rice product.
In the “place branding concept,” chances are strong that members of tribal grouping, conversant and knowledgeable of a certain type of heirloom rice as grown in their immediate home origin, will take up the cudgel of advertising their own heirloom rice, an added strong feature to place branding concept.
The second is Geographical Indication (GI). It is primarily used to protect the national heirloom rice industry, either by completion brought about by the ethos of free trade.
For example the concept of free trade has become a problem of vegetable farmers in Benguet because it encouraged vegetable smuggling. Free trade, in part, has brought in the problem of vegetable smuggling.
Agricultural experts in CAR, knowing fully well the cultural heritage and in situ biodiversity of Cordillera heirloom rice can wield the GI as a counterbalance to unscrupulous suppliers who profess that the products they offer to the public are real Cordillera heirloom rice – although these are not.
GI certification, provided by CAR authorities will confirm that certain heirloom rice originates from a specific geographical area in the Cordillera and guaranteeing property rights, product purity (free from blending with other varieties) and unique characteristics of the product.
Finally, the concept of “product differentiation,” utilized widely, worldwide. By turning “localness” into quality attribute, will help the Cordillera heirloom rice as a fledgling industry into a thriving venture.
Setting apart heirloom rice from generic rice as premium on its information package attracts buyers. The concept differentiates the product as found only locally, or as is, where is, according to government agricultural experts.
Some examples of “localness” social marketing concepts that immediately ring bells among consumers are, “Ditoy lang Cordillera ti pagtubu-an ti heirloom rice,” or, the simple two words, “Buy local,” or “tangkilikin ang atin.” Simple messages that convey impact.
Hopes are high for a thriving and sustainable heirloom rice industry through partnership and collaboration with the indigenous farmers, in support also to President Marcos shifting away from “import-centric” idea, a stance often followed by DA in the past.