(Second of 2 parts)
Ilocos Sur has vast potential to become an agro-industrial powerhouse while maintaining its competitive edge in “Histourism” with its heritage sites. It also has the Vigan Airport and Salomague seaport, and an impressive road network that bodes well for establishment of agro-processing centers, and the trade and export of farm products, both raw and processed.
And more importantly, two of its Congressmen – DV Savellano and Eric Singson – are initiating a new convergence platform for developing Ilocos Sur, which is called Institutionalization of District-wide Agro-industrialization, Innovation and Tourism (iDAIT).
iDAIT in Ilocano means “to sew” and capitalizes on the province’s rich cultural heritage, vast lands that host agriculture production, and infrastructure that can support the establishment of industrial parks.
iDAIT will be anchored on two main hubs, or the capacity cities of Vigan in the First District and Candon in the Second District. These points will provide access to five other provinces of the Ilocos Region namely, Ilocos Norte, Abra, Mountain Province, La Union and Benguet.
Localities in the province will be identified that would be suitable for renewable energy projects, sites for Agri-business Incubator and Information and Computer Technology Center, high-value crop production using the cluster farming approach, tobacco agri-enterprise, farm tourism and organic farming.
The vision of iDAIT for Ilocos Sur is to transform it into “The best destination for Ecohistourism and Agribusiness” with the goal of creating jobs and increasing employment opportunities, reducing rural poverty through the implementation of world-class Ecohistourism clusters and Agro-industrial parks by 2020.
The targeted outcomes of iDAIT for the province are:
1. Diversification of the Ilocos Sur agribusiness and tourism product mix in the light of market demands;
2. Strong infrastructure investments including social absorptive capacity and technical competencies;
3. Spread agribusiness and tourism benefits in all municipalities for employment generation and poverty alleviation;
4. Improved way of doing business and supportive policy for fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for agribusiness incubation, agro-industrial parks and tourism economic zones;
5. Developed models demonstrating public-private-community partnership in sustainable use of natural and man-made resources leading to environmental sustainability; and
6. Increased number of innovative, scalable and profitable micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) able to compete in domestic and foreign markets.
Since iDAIT is a convergence platform, this will entail the unified effort of government agencies in its implementation. For the production of raw agriculture produce, the departments of Agriculture (DA), Agrarian Reform (DAR), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and Interior and Local Governments (DILG) will pool their efforts.
For the processing of raw farm produce into products with higher value added, the DA, DAR will cooperate with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Packaging is an important component in making processed products more marketable especially abroad, and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will cooperate with the DA, DAR and DOST to train MSMEs in packaging their products.
Finally, for the marketing of farm products both raw and processed, the DTI, DAR and DA will cooperate to make them reach the export market.
What I have discussed above are the broad strokes for iDAIT implementation in Ilocos Sur. Now let’s get down to some specifics.
Although tourism is not a major growth driver under iDAIT, it is an essential part of the platform because tourists, both local and foreign, will have to eat and most of them have the income to purchase raw or processed farm products. Also, the word-of-mouth advertising, especially with social media, from tourists can also entice businessmen to invest in Ilocos Sur or source products they can export.
In Ilocos Sur, among the most popular tourist sites are Vigan, Narvacan, Santa Maria, and Santa.
Besides promoting popular heritage and tourist sites, iDAIT’s tourism tack also includes promotion of “farm tourism” and agri/fisheries production clusters, and the “Tour to Store” concept where the marketing of province’s top heritage and farm products to tourists is facilitated.
Increasing tourist arrivals in the province will also require the restoration of national historical sites, construction of tourism-support facilities including theme-based product exhibit centers, comfortable restrooms and visitor’s inquiry centers.
When it comes to agriculture products, Ilocos Sur can capitalize on its advantages for tobacco, bamboo, coconut, peanut, calamansi and coffee, which are all high-value crops that can be processed into a wide array of finished or processed products.
These high-value crops can be grown by smallholder farmers and disadvantaged groups, and be scaled up either individually or through the cluster farming approach.
The iDAIT development tract for agriculture will require the localization of intervention and services for it to have impact on poverty, food security and nutrition. Also, there should be an increased awareness and science-based, technology-driven and inclusive, market-oriented development strategies to grow the sector. There is also a need to increase the participation of young farmers, NGOs and the private sector using sustainable approaches.
The processing of raw agriculture produce into processed form will require the establishment of agro-industrial parks, and tapping science and technology. While Ilocos Sur already has an impressive road network, there is still a need to improve access to areas where the agro-industrial parks will be located.
Another component of iDAIT is to establish livable cities and municipalities complete with hospitality, health and wellness programs, special resident retiree visa programs and tax-free incentives that will also cover small holders.
Since iDAIT is a local government-led initiative, the national government agencies should lend support instead of dictating what programs a province or region should undertake. Besides, much of the support the national government agencies will give under iDAIT are very basic; their efforts simply have to be “sewn” or idait together under the initiative.