WHAT used to be the biggest province up north covering a large portion of today’s Isabela province, Nueva Vizcaya was further sliced to give birth to the province of Quirino.
A landlocked province, it lies between the Sierra Madre mountain range in the east, the Cordilleras in the west and the Caraballo Mountains at the southern extreme.
Gifted with rich soil and favorable climate, the province is now home to superior-quality Vizcaya rice produced three cropping seasons a year. The province also serves as watershed that supplies water to the Magat Hydroelectric Dam that energizes thousands of homes with 540 megawatts of electrical power and irrigates 85,000 hectares of farmlands in Isabela and Quirino provinces.
As a gateway to Cagayan Valley region, Nueva Vizcaya has been known for its natural attractions like the Salinas Salt Springs that straddled a mountainside in Bambang town. Local and foreign tourists used to troop to the mountain of salt, white as snow, but the devastating quake in 1990 that hit this part of the country stopped the salty fountain from flowing again.
However, a group of young cavers, who called their group “Sang-at Salog,” rediscovered what is believed to be the largest and the most pristine cave network in the country toda—the Alayan Cave System—in Malabing Valley, in the upland town of Kasibu. The province is back on the tourism map.
With semi-temperate climate covering large portions of the Cordillera mountain range like those of Kayapa, Santa Fe and Ambaguio towns, salad-type vegetables like cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce are grown organically year round.
Kayapa town is now known for its cut-flower industry and beds of strawberries. At the upland village of Malico in Santa Fe town, organic salad vegetables like lettuce, apple tomatoes, sweet and bell peppers are grown in wide-scale greenhouses. Strawberries in beds and hanging pots are, likewise, produced in the upland village at the boundaries of Nueva Vizcaya and Pangasinan. Large portions of the produced are shipped to Baguio City and Metro Manila. Organic vegetables sold as Vizcaya Fresh brand are grown in these upland towns.
Bagabag town is known for sweet, large pineapples and the popular buko pie, while the town of Diadi is home to sweet glutinous corn yields and the natural resort called Tribu Vizcayano.
Originating from the capital town of Bayombong, home to the country’s first locally bred Perante Orange, growing large-scale production of citrus since the mid-1980s in the towns of Bagabag, Villa Verde, Solano and Kasibu have earned the title for the province “Citrus Capital of the Philippines.” A citrus alley in Barangay Busilac, also in the capital town, sells the sweet and juicy produce.
Kasibu town, however, is not only known for its wonderful cave network and fertile soil that favors farming, it is now home to a gold-copper project operated by Australian mining firm OceanaGold (Philippines) Inc. (OGPI) at the mineral-rich village of Didipio by virtue of the first Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement with the Philippine government.
As a preemptive move to ensure food self-sufficiency, OGPI, through its Social Development Program, has committed to revive a vegetable-growing program it launched years ago with the production of high-value crops in the village hosting the mining project.
“The company is keeping its support to the production of high-value crops in the Didipio Valley,” said Chito Gozar, OGPI vice president for communications and external affairs.
Gozar said the mining firm is revitalizing a vegetable-garden program to strengthen productivity and sustainability of high-value nutritious vegetables not only in commercial scale but in every backyard, as well.
The vegetable-gardening program was launched years ago in the village as a joint project of the Department of Health and the mining company initially to mitigate malnutrition prevalent among schoolchildren in the village.
“As a part of our continuing efforts of keeping a productive and healthy community, we are revitalizing the program to encourage more villagers into planting nutritious vegetables right at their backyard,” Gozar said.
Farmers, local residents, including teachers and students, have undergone a series of seminars on vegetable production and its healthy attributes conducted by vegetable-growing experts.
“Not only a source of literally homegrown vegetables for the community, we foresee a substantial vegetable requirement in different varieties now that the project is in fullswing,” Gozar said.
Many believe that with the scheme, a real sustainable farming livelihood program will prevail.
In an attempt to help rescue the ailing citrus industry in the mining town, OGPI has recently launched a rehabilitation drive with a citrus forum among local citrus farmers in the upland town as an initial move.
“We feed 2,000 mining employees three times a day. This is one of the logical reasons why we would like to extend our helping hands to our vegetable and citrus farmers, after all, mining and agriculture can coexist,” Gozar said.
Image credits: Leonardo Perante II