The Agro-Eco Tourism and Trade Exhibit during the recent Bambanti (Scarecrow) Festival in Isabela was a huge success, based on the huge turnout of visitors, sightseers and buyers. The booths from the various town and cities of the province were large-scale and striking, all highlighting the produce of each area.
Even visiting senatorial candidate Bam Aquino got into the act.
“The products are turned out by entrepreneurs in Isabela,” he said in in a briefing in the capital city of Ilagan. “Rice, corn, the products are made here, which we share all over the Philippines.”
The trade fair featured a smorgasbord of products for sale, such as detergent powder, dishwashing liquid, fruits, fish (tilapia), vegetables, fresh milk, cacao, and shellcraft from the coastal towns facing the Pacific Ocean.
A primer on Isabela investments describes the northern province as among “the best agro-industrial investment destinations” in the country; a self-sustaining agro-industrial economy; No. 1 in corn production; highest in rice self-sufficiency, and so on.
For Festival Chair Antonio Albano, the agricultural situation “is near perfection but we can see some areas not being utilized.” He was referring to a piece of idle land spanning 10,000 hectares where major investors like the Koreans can come in.
“Food security is a big problem in South Korea,” says Albano. “And they will produce corn for the market in Korea, through private partners here. They have the technology to develop
(the land), and are open to partners here. It is part of the program of P-Noy (President Aquino),” he says.
And other Asian investors, like the Japanese, are also coming in.
“Most of our landowners have no capital to make their area productive, so they lease these to foreigners,” the festival official says.
Another major investor is Mindanao Grains Inc., which has sunk in “multibillions” in processing plants that will create corn starch and palay (unhusked rice) paste for corn chips, which are popular in developed countries like Japan and those in Europe.
“We want to create processing plants for chippies,” Albano says, “We want to do that for small-scale industries.”
For the investors, there are two-to-five-year tax incentives and other perks in terms of ordinances, farm-to-market roads and support services from the provincial and municipal
“The investors must assure us of livelihood programs and employment,” Albano says, “We have an integrated program to help the farmers increase production, fertilizers, pre- and postharvest inputs to supply big investors, and a bioethanol plant to produce energy. We need to provide more.”
Turning to ecotourism as an income earner for the province, Albano notes that “we can rival the beaches in Palawan and there is an international airport in Lal-Lo, Cagayan, which is just two hours away. We plan to open up the scenic coastal towns.”
“Our dream is one million tourists for Isabela,” he says. “Ecotourism will bring in waiters, hotels, chefs, and the tourists will buy our products and shop in small-scale and medium industries.”