PUTTING DOWN ROOTS

HEIR­LOOM RICE IS POS­ING A QUES­TION FOR THE NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION: CAN YOU COMMERCIALIZE AND PRE­SERVE CUL­TURAL HER­ITAGE?

F&B World - - SPECIAL FEATURE - Text and Pho­tos by JILSON TIU Special thanks to THE DE­PART­MENT OF AGRI­CUL­TURE

The ter­races of the North­ern Philip­pines were made as if they were as­cend­ing to the heav­ens. And it turns out, they re­ally are heaven sent.

These rice fields are not only a cul­tural trea­sure, but they are also a source of life for the in­dige­nous peo­ple as well as the nu­mer­ous rice va­ri­eties across the coun­try. On these an­ces­tral lands rest the ori­gins of over 300 vari­a­tions of heir­loom rice passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. And for good rea­son, con­sid­er­ing heir­loom rice’s ex­cep­tional nu­tri­tional value and in­ter­na­tional de­mand. In the US alone, the Rice Ter­races Farm­ers Co­op­er­a­tive has ex­ported around 100 met­ric tons of heir­loom rice va­ri­eties such as tina­won and unoy since 2005, in­clud­ing a 24.4 met­ric ton ship­ment in 2012 worth P1.3 mil­lion.

The unoy or what lo­cals call chong-ak is served dur­ing wed­dings, fam­ily re­unions, and when­ever an old rel­a­tive is dy­ing. Clus­ters of heir­loom rice are dis­played at the feet of the dead to sym­bol­ize their wealth.

“Ito na ang ki­nag­is­nan namin,” says Ar­siña Baluyan, 46, a lo­cal farmer who’s been in­tro­duced to the Sa­gada ways ever since she was young. Baluyan’s fam­ily owns a small piece of land where she plants heir­loom rice—to­gether with her 27-year-old son—for per­sonal con­sump­tion, and then sells what­ever is left in the mar­ket.

Unoy is a gluti­nous rice used to make desserts and rice wine. At this year’s Madrid Fu­sion Manila, pas­try chefs Miko Aspi­ras, Peachy Juban, and Kris­tine Lotilla erected an “ed­i­ble wall” us­ing four heir­loom rice va­ri­eties: Kalinga Apayao, Moun­tain Province vi­o­let rice, heir­loom brown rice, and South Cota­bato heir­loom rice.

While dis­plays like this make a big im­pact on the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional scene, a grow­ing num­ber of con­cerns has the agri­cul­ture sec­tor wor­ried. Al­though the rice is re­silient, re­sis­tant to dis­eases, and with­stands weather stress, small farm­ers can only pro­duce so much, es­pe­cially with the crop’s low-yield­ing ca­pac­ity.Pork bar­be­cue Baluyan and saysa bot­tle they of al­sobeer have pest prob­lems with field ro­dents.

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