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July 5, 2019

SLOW FOOD AND BOHOL’S BOUNTY

PAKO, BIKO, IMBAO…a whole spread of Bohol’s bounty was prepared intentionally by forward-thinking newly-minted Governor Arthur C. Yap at his inaugural dinner. I was in seventh heaven checking out the seafood—baked imbao, halaan soup as well as the appetizers like white carabao cheese and a cheese variant with malunggay similar to the looks of Boursin cheese with fine herbs. Nothing imported was served. That was the whole idea. Eat Local.

The next day, he met with farmer leaders and us in the private sector to have a meeting of minds, aka business matching so farmers can grow what the tourists are looking for (e.g. napa cabbage for Kimchi, good local coffee, etc) and for private sector “big brothers and sisters” to assist the farmers’ groups in completing what we call a value chain. “I will give full support only if the value chain is complete,” he says to the wide-eyed crowd, now fully immersed in opportunities Bohol offers.

The island caters to over a million tourists a year, has 1.8 Million population, plus Cebu’s 5 million inhabitants become a natural market for other domestic products. Cebu is but a ferry (fast craft) ride away from Bohol’s northern coast. These are the numbers we chewed on as we thought about market opportunities.

And Yap is right about using local ingredients, local labor and local culture to push the economy from the grassroots. They have so much special products like premium UBE (purple yam) which even if it is NOT an export item volume-wise, can be value-added to be served locally to tourists. The export variety, one with a different flavor, can also be cultivated for the export market. It’s like keeping the best for the tourists to eat and growing more for export needs as well as ice cream demand globally as UBE has now become a flavor like Matcha (green tea) of Japan. Ube is now a global flavor.

Bohol also has the Criollo and Trinitario varieties of CACAO. Even if the Criollo is hard to grow and propagate, it can be a differentiator for Bohol’s market. This is what Dalareich Polot of Ginto chocolates did—the local Bohol cacao is in her GINTO, while other cacao beans sourced from other places are marketed under another brand.

The Bohol trip was indeed an eye-opener for many investors. The government is encouraging, the infrastructure like the road network and the airport is of international standards and the spots: churches, the chocolate hills, the Tarsier, and the Bohol National Museum—all give us reasons to come back and put and plant a flag for coffee, or cacao in these parts.

So this is just an appetizer trip of sorts. We all promised to come back to develop the farming communities and lead them to specialty as well as export markets. For us in Slow Food, we are excited to help add value to the rare species like Criollo Cacao, Premium Kinampay, Kamias, and other fruits and root crops Bohol has to offer. We are inspired by Art Yap’s vision to let Bohol cater to tourists who look for only the best food, drink and indigenous culture.

So I as I grazed and walked to the buffet tables, I got myself some boiled native peanuts (the small indigenous variety), some carabao cheese and toast, native rice cakes, and had a cup of Sikwate or hot chocolate (this needs to be harnessed like Belgian chocolate). Then I thought: this is a Slow Food community—we have slow fish and seaweed, slow meats, slow cheese and local recipes like Chicken Halang halang.

Okay, Bohol, you’re next on my list. And it also helps that already some entrepreneurs have started serving food this way. I’m talking about Vicky Wallace at Bohol Bee Farm, and more resorts will surely follow suit. Vicky serves local fruits and even makes tomato ice cream!

Thanks, Governor Yap, and we hope we can develop Bohol’s food and culture to cater to the many tourists you play host to, the Slow Food way: good, clean, and fair.

 

 

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