Story and photos by Ceasar M. Perante
EVEN before Tourism Secretary Bernadette Fatima Romulo Puyat announced that farm tourism is the ideal advocacy of her department, the province of Isabela has long been reputed to be a bountiful travel destination up north with its verdant agricultural landscape.
Isabela geographically straddles the heart of Cagayan Valley region, bordered by the Northern Sierra Madre Mountain Range in the east and the Cordillera mountains in the west with predominantly rich agricultural terrain. The province’s economy is primarily agricultural with rice and corn as the dominant crops. Today, Isabela is the premier province of the north and one of the most progressive in the country.
The province of Isabela is dubbed as the new “Rice Granary of the Philippines.” It is blessed with water as complementary natural resources through the Magat River Integrated Irrigation System that irrigates about 85,000 hectares of farmlands favoring the large-scale production of premium quality grain crops like rice and corn.
The agriculture department reported that the province produced 1,049,954 metric tons of corn and 1,068,275 MT of rice last cropping year.
With the sustainability of these golden yields, the province was awarded Top Corn Producer in the Philippines and second in rice production.
Believed to be the biggest in Southeast Asia established by Mindanao Grains Processing Co. and the Philippine Maize Federation Inc., a P750-million corn processing plant established in Reina Mercedes town is seen to have answered the major postharvest problems confronting corn farmers in the region
Along the province’s Pacific coastline of Divilacan town is the white-sand beach on Honeymoon Island. The municipality of Maconacon is said to be the Lobster Capital of the North because of the enormous lobsters that flourish in its coastal waters that enterprising traders export to Japan.
Another hidden paradise is the coastal town of Palanan where exotic seafood, blue marlins and humpback whales abound, attracting game fishers to the town. At the foot of the Sierra Madre, the country’s longest mountain range and home to the rare and endangered species like the Philippine Eagle, the Golden Crowned Flying Fox, the Green Sea Turtle and the Dugong. The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park is a biodiversity hot spot and the largest of 10 priority protected areas in the Philippines.
A joint venture among Japanese, Taiwanese and Filipino partners, Green Future Innovations Inc. has erected a 54-million liter ethanol plant in San Mariano town. The multinational investment has substantially converted many idle lands in the province into lucrative sugarcane farms. The town also pioneered in honeybee culture through the Isabela State University (San Mariano) apiculture farm.
Despite the influx of multinational food companies in the province, Isabela’s cuisine like the popular “Pancit Cabagan,” the chunky glutinous “Bibingka of Naguillian,” patupat (glutinous rice tightly wrapped in coconut leaves cooked in boiling sugarcane syrup) and muscuvado sugar of Santiago City are popularly enticing to enthusiasts who crave for organic food products.
For growing vegetables associated with the hugely popular Ilocano pinakbet dish, this town in the second congressional district of Isabela has been dubbed “Pinakbet Capital of the North.”
With its enormous production of mung bean, the multiawarded San Mateo town is dubbed as the “Munggo Capital of the Philippines.” When one thinks of San Mateo, Isabela, mung beans always come to mind. The town is also known for watermelons and salted eggs.
The adjacent town of Alicia is popular for sweet melons and watermelons.
Famous for its Santa Victoria Cave System and Wildlife Sanctuary is the young city of Ilagan, better known for its Binallay rice cake. The city is the provincial capital of Isabela province since May 1, 1856. It has a total land area of 116,626 hectares.
The municipality of Aurora is the vegetable basket of the province and home to CornWorld seed processing plant.
Known for large-scale cattle and carabao production, San Pablo and San Agustin towns play as livestock and dairy capital of the province.
One of the fastest-growing cities in the region is Cauayan City, which plays as the literal domestic gateway to the valley, home of the Cauayan Domestic Airport.
With over 100,000 hectares of farmlands planted with corn, the province is the country’s No.1 corn producer. Its fields of gold are dotted with bambanti—scarecrows created by Isabelinos to keep away birds, pests and other threats to their rice and corn crops. Often dressed in scary tatters and colorful hand-me-downs, the bambanti symbolizes the best of Isabela, its impressive beginnings, intense growth and dazzling future.
Because of its predominantly agricultural setting, bambanti, an Ilocano term for “scarecrow, was the adopted name for the annual thanksgiving festival as it symbolizes food security.
The festival aims to showcase Isabela’s rich cultural heritage, the ingenuity of its people, industry and the pristine beauty of its 35 towns and three cities.