TABUK CITY, Kalinga: As the corn craze continues to sweep across the area obliterating little that remains of the once thick forest and coffee plantations, the Gunaban clan in Nambukayan is converting to ginger.
There is a difference between turning a coffee plantation into corn land and a ginger patch: in the former, trees including acacia and naturally grown types like narra in the case of Kalinga, are mowed down; but in the latter, much of the shade trees are spared because ginger loves partial shade.
Former barangay captain Marcelo Gunaban, who has several children engaged in ginger production, said the crop does not require the destruction of trees.
He is also bullish about ginger saying it generates more income than coffee, corn and rice, the leading crops in the barangay.
Gunaban added ginger is not perishable since it could remain in the soil for as long as three years and still be marketable, is not affected by typhoons and droughts, is immune to plant diseases and with minimal production cost, yields a good profit.
So far, with their total production area of around 20 hectares, members of the Gunaban clan account for at least 95 percent of the area planted to ginger in their barangay, making them the leading producer of the spice in the province and most likely, the entire Cordillera.
Because of them, Nambukayan is the main supplier of ginger to the Tabuk market. Their harvest has also penetrated the markets of Tuguegarao City in Cagayan, and Roxas town in Isabela.
Nambukayan is one of the barangays in the city that lately has attracted negative attention from the rapid deterioration of its environment brought about by the activities of kaingineros (slash and burn farmers), illegal loggers and fishers and male folk who hunt down practically anything that moves.
Despite warnings from government agencies about the dire effects of cutting down trees and the barangay’s own anti-kaingin (slash and burn farming) ordinance, Nambukayan is one of the barangays in the city that is sacrificing its coffee plantations and the little that remains of its natural forest for the immediate cash offered by yellow corn.
Shortage of water
With most of the watershed gone, the springs from which farmers used to fetch water all-year round only come to life during the rainy season. During the summer months, some residents haul water from as far as Barangay Bulanao, 8 kilometers away.
Also, residents of Nambukayan along with those of neighboring barangays Guilayon and Magnao use softwood when they construct their houses.
Amante Batalao, an in-law of the Gunabans, said 20 hectares of ginger plantations in Nambukayan, all of which are partially shaded by trees, used to be coffee plantations.
He said that they do not grow ginger in the open because when exposed to the sun, the rhizomes rot easily.
As for the possibility of expanding into tree-less areas, Batalao said this could be done with fast-growing giant ipil-ipil trees as temporary shade.
“You could plant the ginger and the ipil-ipil at the same time and by the time ginger are grown, they could be shaded by the ipil-ipil. Along with the ipil-ipil, plant acacia trees. You can cut down the ipil-ipil when the acacia are big enough to shade the ginger,” Batalao said.
He said that at the moment, most Nambukayan farmers still prefer to plant corn over ginger but he believes that if the market is assured, they will switch to ginger.
Not only has corn hastened the near disappearance of the remaining trees of the once thickly forested barangay; corn farming requires the use of weedicides that annihilate all other plants, Batalao added.
What also concerns the Gunabans and other ginger producers in the barangay is the entry of reportedly inferior but cheaper hybrid ginger from Nueva Vizcaya, which they say pulls down prices to as low as P20 per kilo that is half the average price in the area.
When Nueva Vizcaya ginger floods the market, the Gunabans do not harvest and wait for prices to improve.
Something else is on their side though. Tessie Camaddo, 40, who has been selling vegetables in the public market for 10 years now, claims most customers only buy the Nueva Vizcaya ginger when the locally produced ginger is not available.
“The locally produced ginger is native and has a pleasant aroma which is absent in the hybrid ginger coming from Nueva Vizcaya,” Camaddo said.
Estanislao Albano Jr.