With the country facing shortage in many basic dining table items like onions and garlic, many have started looking at Ilocos Norte, the president’s home province, to supply the market with at least this “white gold.”
Agriculture experts have called garlic, a plant in the Allium sativum (onion) family, “white gold” not just for its nutritional value but also for its healthy benefits: it is a panacea for the heart and the stomach and has also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Garlic inhibits and destroys bacteria, fungus, and parasites, as well as lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels, preventing blood clotting and protecting the liver, according to experts.
It is closely related to onions, shallots, and leeks. Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove, with about 10-20 cloves in a single bulb, give or take.
In recent months, the Department of Agriculture reported a shortage in garlic supply in the country, saying for 2022, the agency expected at least a 63,000 metric ton deficit in the commodity.
During a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, the DA said the country’s total garlic supply for 2022 was pegged at 82,950 metric tons.
Experts have said the country has been heavily dependent on garlic imports to meet local demand. For the first quarter of 2022, total garlic supply was 27,912 metric tons against total demand of 37,331 MT.
Of the total supply, 23,141 MT were imported while only 4,971 MT were locally sourced.
Authorities have referred to House Bill 4337 approved by the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Food, which declared Ilocos Norte in the country’s far northwest as Garlic capital of the Philippines.
The country, a basically agricultural economy imports most of its garlic supply from China, india and the United States, with 143,167 shipments followed by Vietnam with 21,255 and United Arab Emirates at the 3rd spot with 20,895 shipments.
Sometime back, before the claws of the coronavirus pandemic bruised the different layers of Philippine society, in the small agricultural town of Pinili in Ilocos Norte, garlic stalls were a sight that in summer daily jabbed the eyes of passing-by local and foreign tourists.
It was understandable since the town, where local Sandataan guerrillas of the Batac-born rebel Catholic priest Gregorio Aglipay, had been assigned earlier as the garlic producer of Ilocos Norte under the national government’s One Town One Product program – which originated from Japan’s One Village, One Product agenda—launched in 2002.
Fact was, there was a Bawang center in Barangay Darat, west of the town proper sliced by the MacArthur Highway that meanders through the Ilocos Region down to Central Luzon and farther down to Metro Manila for a total 457 kilometers.
Before the pandemic in March 2020, the town had an annual income that ranged from P40,000 to P60,000, which went on a nosedive during the lockdown to P10,000 or less per annum, according to Mavi Keroll Barolo Cercado, the town’s municipal accountant and head of Pinili’s Tourism Office.
By 2016, Cercado says the Bawang Center “was converted to Pinili Tourist Center by then Gov. Imee Marcos.”
Eventually, her son Gov. Matthew Manotoc led the opening of the repurposed Tourist Center as a temporary location of Ilocos Norte South Triage Center as it opened its borders to tourists and also as a Rapid Antigen Testing Facility since October 1, 2020.
To date, there is no other Bawang Center in town but there are Bawang Stalls lined up along the Highway of Darat near the Pinili Visitor Center, a tribute to the industry and tenacity of Piniliños who previously had Virginia— recognized for its bright yellow color—and Burley—a light air-cured tobacco used primarily for cigarette production—as their cash crops from the 1950s to the millennium rollover with the launching of the garlic product, known in the Ilocos as the “while gold” – from the color of the head or knob.
The Pinili Visitor Center was opened to, among others, pay tribute to abel weavers in Ilocos Norte and the town’s nationally recognized Living Treasure or Manlilikha ng Bayan Magdalena Gamayo from the far-flung Barangay Lumbaan-Bicbica, some 10.6 kms due east from the town proper.
The town, before the pandemic, also had the Pinili Bawang Festival, celebrated as tribute to the hardworking farmers in the community, scorched by the Ilocos sun in summer and drenched by the monsoon during the rainy season, who mainly cultivate garlic, with the flue-curing barns for the tobacco leaves steadily waving farewell.
The Ilocos, a narrow strip of land that stretches from Pagudpud, the northernmost town of Ilocos down to Ilocos Sur, La Union and Villasis town in Pangasinan before San Manuel in Tarlac, is the largest garlic-producing region in the Philippines, contributing more than 65 percent to the country’s total production.
Agriculturists say the region has the best comparative advantage in garlic production because of its agro climatic suitability.
(The author comes from the garlic-producing town of Pinili, Ilocos Norte assigned to produce the “white gold” under the government’s One Town One Product Program.)