DAGUPAN CITY, Aug. 14 -- Didn't Ferdinand Magellan accidentally discover the Philippines while he and his men were exploring the Pacific Ocean in search of spices that would whip up the taste of food in their home country, Spain?
One of these spices was garlic, a root crop that originated in Central Asia and abundant in the Philippines, particularly the Ilocos Region, which is the country's biggest producer of garlic today based on current Department of Agriculture statistics.
Garlic is an essential food condiment that every Filipino kitchen must have to add flavor and class to every dish.
Erlinda Manipon, OIC regional technical director for research and development of the Department of Agriculture in Region 1, incidentally shared a wealth of information about the home-grown garlic which to her is still more appealing than the imported ones originating from China that is now flooding the markets.
She came from La Union and was going to the KBP Forum in Dagupan but for no reason at all, the show was cancelled that day without any notice to her. However, she consented to be interviewed minus radio and TV coverage.
If you ask housewives which garlic they would prefer, Ms. Manipon said, they would easily pick the local garlic over the imported, being more pungent and aromatic than its foreign counterpart.
She believes that the local garlic, which through many decades came to be known as the "White Gold of the Ilocos", is of course smaller than the imported garlic but has a distinct aroma and unforgettable biting taste that are not present in the imported garlic.
One or two sliced cloves of the native garlic would be enough to give flavor to the food to be served as compared to the many cloves that are are needed when using imported garlic.
Statistics showed there are 1,880 hectares of land being devoted to garlic farming in Ilocos Norte, 130 hectares in Ilocos Sur and only four hectares in Pangasinan.
Manipon said that Pinili and Badoc towns are the biggest producers of garlic in Ilocos Norte.
All garlic plantations in the north account for 4,488 tons with one hectare of garlic field yielding at least 2.23 tons.
There is garlic of the maroon variety originating from Batanes island but whose production is still limited, Manipon said.
Under the Department of Agriculture Road Map initiated by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol, garlic would be among the agricultural commodities that would be given priority starting this year to boost the income of farmers.
This move seeks to reduce if not cut importation of garlic from China and conserve foreign exchange of the country.
Field demonstrations were conducted not only in the Ilocos but in various parts of the country to showcase the production of garlic to farmers and their reaction was quite positive, Manipon said.
Moreover, the DA would lend technical assistance to anyone going to plant garlic as well as assured the availability of seeds.
In the Ilocos Region, where climatic and soil conditions are ideal for planting garlic during the dry months, an additional 150 hectares of land will be cultivated for garlic starting summer next year.
Six other areas will join Ilocos in planting garlic to ensure sufficiency of the commodity and avoid a situation such as what happened in 2012 when garlic suddenly disappeared from the market.
These are Regions 2, 3, 4a, 4b, Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro.
Manipon said all these other areas tapped for garlic planting have the same climatic condition as in the Ilocos and soil that is appropriately suited to the crop.
In the past, Pangasinan allocated just four hectares for garlic farming as the farmers were hesitant to plant the crop and would rather plant onion, tomato, corn, native tobacco and mongo.
This four-hectare initial garlic plantation in Pangasinan is in Sison but farmers there are complaining over the low price of garlic in the local market today.
Manipon admitted that when the price is low, farmers can store garlic in barns to wait for the price to escalate as the commodity has a shelf life of one year, actually many times longer than onion's.
She said after field trials and demonstration, and the promised technical assistance, DA is confident that more farmers would be planting garlic than the other dry season crops starting next year.
Manipon personally urged farmers to take garlic seriously as it can be harvested three months from planting, same as the waiting time for onions, tomatoes, corn, mongo and tobacco. (PNA)