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Vizcaya Fresh! and the birth of branded organic upland farming

Young organic-vegetable advocate Aubrey Eunice Soriano shows her pick-and-pay harvest of upland-grown broccoli at an organic farm in Tidang Village, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya.

Young organic-vegetable advocate Aubrey Eunice Soriano shows her pick-and-pay harvest of upland-grown broccoli at an organic farm in Tidang Village, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya.

BETTER known as the “Gateway to the Cagayan Valley,” the province of Nueva Vizcaya is land-locked by Sierra Madre in the east, Cordillera in the west and the Caraballo Mountain ranges down south. With a highland character and hilly terrain, 70 percent of which is forestland, the province is a vital watershed of its own and for all provinces downstream including Isabela and Cagayan.

The mighty Magat River that originates from the province energizes thousands of homes and irrigates about 85,000 hectares of farmlands through the Magat Hydroelectric Dam in Isabela. It is also home to the famous Vizcaya rice, salad-type vegetables and sweet oranges.

Rampant illegal logging and kaingin or “slash-and-burn” farming, however, have severely inundated large portions of the province’s upland towns which added more injury to the already traumatic devastation brought about by the 1990 killer quake in the region.

These are the reasons a Japanese non-governmental organization (NGO) has come into the picture.

Global Links Management Institute Project Manager Makiko Soma (left) and Vizcaya Fresh Organic Advocate Marketing Coordinator Josephine Almirol show a tray of organic vegetables and fruits at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement compound in Magsaysay, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.

Global Links Management Institute Project Manager Makiko Soma (left) and Vizcaya Fresh Organic Advocate Marketing Coordinator Josephine Almirol show a tray of organic vegetables and fruits at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement compound in Magsaysay, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.

“To conserve Nueva Vizcaya’s precious natural resources, our organization Global Links Management Institute [GLMI-Japan] in partnership with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement [PRRM] has implemented watershed management and sustainable upland farming projects for nearly 10 years,” GLMI Project Manager Makiko Soma said.

After the successful first-phase implementation of the “Promotion of Participatory Forest Management in the Critical Watershed of Nueva Vizcaya Province,” no less than Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura and Soma signed another grant contract on the Phase 2 of the project at the Japanese Embassy in Metro Manila which granted $173,131 (P8.1 million) from the “Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects” under Japan’s Official Development Assistance.

With an indigenous technology introduced in the communities, some 500 families in the upland towns of Dupax del Sur, Kayapa, Kasibu and Santa Fe in the province have benefited from the project.

“The second phase of the project has enhanced sustainable forest management in the sites through the construction of small-scale community-irrigation systems, the establishment of sustainable agricultural practices such like dissemination of composting, and further training to enhance environmental awareness of local populations and school,” Soma said.

After the two successful phases of Participatory Forest Management implementation in the area, another project dubbed “Support to Improve Livelihood of poor Farmers through production of Organic and Reduced-Chemical Produce in Nueva Vizcaya” (Silfor) was launched in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, on May 10, 2012, with a financial assistance of ¥42,571,511
(approximately P21.3 million).

The project aims to improve the livelihood of 100 farmer beneficiaries from the upland towns with the establishment of new market channels, develop farmers’ knowledge in marketing of organic and reduced-chemical produce, as well as introduce them to sustainable upland-farming techniques.

After a few years of project implementation as the upland farmers competently produced organically grown crops, they were confronted by how they could market their produce.

“It is precisely these reasons we conceptualized and recommended the creation of a marketing arm to sustain the steady market for the organic upland products,” Soma said.

The joint endeavor among GLMI, Vizcaya Fresh Organic Advocates Inc., PRRM and other farmer organizations in the province gave birth to the brand Vizcaya Fresh!

“We organized Vizcaya Fresh! to continue the endeavor hand in hand with local farmers and partners even after the end of the Japanese Embassy-funded Silfor Project in March 2015. The brand aims to make Nueva Vizcaya known as an organic state by approaching the whole supply chain from production with sustainable farming techniques, fair trading, up to the delivery of truly healthy and eco-friendly products to the ultimate consumers,” Soma said.

Vizcaya Fresh Organic Advocates Operations Manager Josephine Almirol said the project is an offshoot of Silfor after painstaking years of thorough research and pioneering in organic farming in the province.

“Finally, we are now armed with a brand that does not only sell naturally grown organic upland farm products but a name for the province of Nueva Vizcaya,” Almirol said.

Previously, Almirol’s group would conduct intensive market exposures that got positive remarks.

“We launched the brand to institutionalize our organic products in and outside the province. The products range from peanuts, yacon, taro, yam, ube, sweet potatoes, salad crops like Japanese cucumbers, carrots, red and white radish, tomatoes and lettuce varieties” Almirol said.

“The best-selling organic fruit favorites are rambutan, lemon, banana, avocado, papaya, guyabano, strawberry, calamansi, pineapple, Satsuma, passion fruits and littuco while ‘Bahay Kubo’ vegetables like ampalaya, eggplant, green pepper, okra, sitaw, squash, tomato and wing bean are, likewise, top favorites,” she said. Products are available at a weekend market in Legazpi Village, Makati City.

The Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects started in the Philippines in 2002. That year, the Japanese government signed contracts for 32 projects in the Philippines totalling P246 million. Japan believes that this project will strengthen not only friendship between the Japanese and the Filipino people but also the existing strategic ties between Japan and the Philippines.

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