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September 7, 2018


It’s not about saving the Banaue Rice Terraces as a tourist spot but saving the rice varieties that grow on it, as well as those in other towns of Ifugao like Hungduan, towns in Kalinga and other areas of the Cordillera. These heirloom varieties called by theie unique names like Jeykot, Dikit and others like Minaangan, are all Tinawon or “once a year” rice varieties.

Heirloom Rice from Kalinga

For the past years since 2012, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been promoting these heirloom varieties which have been catalogued in a listing called the ARK OF TASTE—a veritable guide to the world’s endangered species of fruits, grains, meats , as well as traditional cooking methods like “Etag” or smoked meat, and even alcoholic spirits like Bugnay and Tapuy. The DA, under its former Usec now Secretary of Tourism Bernadette Romulo-Puyat brought chefs Margarita Fores and Jam Melchor (2016) and rice farmers Jimmy and Rowena Gonnay (sponsored by Slow Food Terra Madre Network) to Italy to showcase our heritage food.

The DA also engaged their regional offices to send rare indigenous food like an ancient grain called Adlai (job’s tears), Batuan (a sour fruit used in Kansi of Ilonggos), and souring agents/ fruits like Tabon Tabon and Sua from Mindanao, Pili fom Bicol at the Madrid Fusion Manila for the three years it had a stand at the world-class event for Gastronomy.

How has the Slow Food Movement and being included in the Ark of Taste helped farmers? The farmers got to find markets for their special produce—chefs and restaurants (local and foreign) started to find uses for these rare ingredients. The Adlai became a risotto, the heirloom rice became paella, and other rare finds found their way to chef’s tables and consumers (now called co-producers) started to serve them in their homes, paying top dollar (or peso) for the rare heirloom rice varieties.

Now, the Ark of Taste lists over 60 varieties from the Philippines, double of the measly 30 ingredients in 2012. But there are more indigenous products which our DA offices in the regions can ask of farmers—there are the not-so-common fruits like chico, macopa and aratiles. There is duhat, guava and lipote. These are old fruit varieties our children may not even know anymore.

For the lentils, Slow Food has found “bukel” from Ifugao, “Kadyos” from Negros which is now served in Joel Torre’s JT Manukan chain of stores and thus ensures the continued planting of the black eyed beans in Kadyos Baboy Langka or KBL, a popular dish in Negros and Iloilo.

To DA’s credit, the exhibits at Madrid Fusion Manila and the participation in Italy’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in 2014 and 2016 made our farmers conscious of these almost forgotten beans, grains, pulses and even Criollo Cacao and Arabica coffee. The farmers reach out to the Slow Food community members in Manila, Pangasinan, Baguio, Negros, Cebu as well as send these produce to the DA head office so they can be sold to specialty customers like chefs.

These heirloom varieties need to be saved from extinction for a country to keep its biodiversity and for farmers to continue growing their own food. The typical rice farmer in Ifugao produces enough rice for his family’s annual needs. The other Slow food members also protect other natural produce like wild honey which are also getting harder to find these days when adulterated honey is widely available.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is continuing its promise to preserve our biodiversity through the protection of these rare and slowly-disappearing species. Together with the Slow Food community, the farmers are assured of preserving their food supply in the areas not so easy to reach like the mountainous areas in Cordillera (CAR) and also in Mindanao.

This coming September the DA will again be part of the global celebration called Terra Madre and this event promotes not only Philippine food, but endangered varieties. Grains, fruits and Filipino recipes from produce which many of our farmers can continue to plant and harvest for biodiversity and for our food heritage not to disappear will be included in the event.

It is foreseen that the DA can continue its good work by engaging its regional offices to continue looking for these rare varieties and probably list them in the Ark of Taste and create new niche and specialty markets for these produce.

And that will make farmers earn good money for specialty products that may not need volume but will make their efforts well worth the price consumers are willing to pay for these rare varieties.

Adlai, anyone?


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