NANNING, CHINA: Compared to other international “cities of charm” in China and in the the Southeast Asia (Asean), the province of Isabela boasts agricultural success as the top corn producer and rice supplier of the country, which provides for the province’s better pitch in investment opportunities.
Inside the Philippine booth of the “Cities of Charm” hall of the 10th China-Asean Expo (Caexpo), provincial officials of Isabela are “honored” to be named as one of this year’s charming cities across the Southeast Asian nations.
“We are thankful to be showcased here at the Caexpo where we believe we can have an access to foreign markets and create a bigger demand for our high-quality commodities,” Isabela governor Faustino Dy 3rd said.
As a “city of charm,” handpicked cities or provinces across the ten Asean countries and China are given the chance to exhibit their opportunities in trade, business, culture and tourism.
Despite not as tourism-driven compared to other Philippine cities of charm in the past, Isabela officials urged investors to support the already strong agricultural status of the province.
Dy urged an audience of Chinese investors to “consider investing in agricultural product processing as it offers income opportunities” from the industrial and mainstream commercial sectors.
‘Feeding the nation’
Provincial agriculturist Danilo Tumamao said that despite agricultural success, Isabela “remains poor” because only it and Nueva Ecija province are the self-sufficient provinces in terms of rice production.
Isabela pales second to Nueva Ecija as the top producer of rice in the country, but because of Nueva Ecija’s higher population, it is this northeastern province that “feeds the nation.”
“We are number one in rice surplus. The extra rice that we produce are the ones distributed across the nation,” he said.
If new investments should come in they would be happy to achieve their target of 9 to 10 tons of rice per hectare. At present, they only harvest 4.75 to 4.8 tons per hectare.
“More than that can be exported to other countries like the Middle East,” he said, adding that our Milagrosa and Dinorado are some of the sought after.
Asked where investments should go, Tumamao said it could be for additional farming machineries, technology transfers, better processing equipment, irrigation systems, water impoundments and rice breeds tolerant to drought are some investments that could be infused in the province.
“We have to have proper drying, milling, and storing procedures to promote less breakage. Good-eating quality rice comes from good-quality seeds,” he said.
Infrastructure-wise, Tumamao said that more farm-to-market roads, bridges and transportation system should be constructed in to help farmer double their production and traders to market the rice.
Other priority agriculture and aquaculture industries involve the production and processing of dairy, mangoes, sugarcanes, bananas, seaweeds, tilapia, prawn, bamboo, and rattan.
For her part, provincial treasurer Theresa Araneta-Flores said that there are still four towns in Isabela that are cleaved from centers of business in Ilagan City: Palanan, Maconacon, Dinapigue and Divilacan.
“Imagine Sierra Madre in between the city and these towns. There is no linkage yet to these coastal towns except by light planes or ferry boats,” she said.
At present, Flores said these towns have potential as retirement hubs, fishing centers or tourism spots but “they are still untapped and their potentials are not yet discovered.”
Although there is already a coastal development plan, the national government’s investments are short for these coastal towns. Even the roll-on, roll-off, which was first planned, was shelved.
Flores said that in spite of attractions like the Magat Dam, the biggest dam in southeast Asia, and the Ilagan Sanctuary, Isabela is “primarily agricultural-based having wide tracts of land” and investments to this sector will boost the overall economic performance of the province.
Dy himself “urged” investors to consider Isabela as an investment site, given it being the first province in the Philippines to generate energy from biomass fuel using agricultural waste and the biggest supplier of bioethanol fuel.
Asked what the provincial capitol felt when they learned of Isabela as this year’s “city of charm,” Flores said that they were “honored.”
“There were apprehensions, of course, especially we asked if we could actually spend, what we would present and the like. But overall, we are very honored considering this year is a milestone as Caexpo celebrates its tenth year,” Flores said.
Already in its ninth run, the “Cities of Charm” showcased other cities and provinces of the Philippines like Cebu; Bohol, Palawan, Manila and Laoag; Subic Bay; Davao; Cagayan de Oro and Iloilo; Zamboanga City; Puerto Princesa; and Clark Freeport Zone. JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON