January 29, 2023

After casting out the image as a major marijuana cultivator and going into silk production, Kapangan town in Benguet is pinning hopes on the production of sili or bell pepper in uplifting the living status of one of its poor communities and spur tourist activities within the entire upland municipality.
The town has staged its first Sili Festival on Jan. 31, which showcased the versatile bell pepper. Barangay Pongayan, the town’s main bell pepper producer, is also now supplying one of the country’s biggest fast food chains, aside from providing for the demand in their own market and La Trinidad and Baguio City. Most of its farmers are also now in the process of being certified for Good Agricultural Practices.
But realizing the first sili festival and becoming a regular supplier of an institutional client was not, as they say, a walk in the park.
As in most far-flung areas of the mountainous terrains of the Cordillera, vegetable producers in Kapangan have to walk for hours from their farms, carrying baskets of their crops, to reach the roads that would lead to markets within the town and nearby areas.
Punong Barangay Fernando Sasa said farmers used to walk one hour and 30 minutes from the farm to the provincial road for lack of access roads and foot trails. The labor was not only physically draining; manual hauling and longer transport time from the farm to the market downgraded freshness and quality of their produce.
The lack of paved roads also discouraged them to plant and produce more, but only enough for their community’s needs and content on using traditional farming practices.
Sasa said the barangay, through the Pongayan Credit Cooperative (PCC) farmers’ group welcomed interventions in 2017 that opened the doors for their improvement, particularly through DA’s second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project under DA Regional Executive Director Cameron Odsey, which counted Barangay Pongayan as one of its accomplishments as a coverage area.
In coordination with municipal government and the barangay council, the project aims to reduce poverty by increasing family income through improvements on agricultural production and sustainable resource management.
By investing time in the program, Sasa said farmers through the PCC learned hands-on planning and implementation of programs to boost sili, their commodity-based livelihood, as a major crop – one that brings income for its farmers as well as sells the town as a top tourist destination.
The barangay received P24 million for the construction of three access roads, among them are the Central Pongayan-Gaswiling FMR and the Pasil-Pongayan FMR, and two foot paths, which were completed in 2019 and have now shortened transport of goods from the farm to the market to 30 minutes.
The PCC prepared a business plan involving the procurement of agricultural inputs for swine and vegetable production.
In a detailed account of Robert Domoguen of the DA-Cordillera and the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security for the Cordillera, the plan, for which the PCC received P500,000 as assistance fund, covered the procurement of piglets, feeds, vitamins, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and polyethylene plastic that were sold to the members for their farming use.
The group tied up with the Taloy Sur Multipurpose Cooperative (TSMC) as consolidator for the PCC bell pepper production and which identified partners who trained on GAP in bell pepper production. In coordination with the provincial and municipal LGUs, PCC members are now on the process of GAP certification.
PCC members bring their produce at the Bagsakan Center in Lomon, Paykek, Kapangan, where these are sorted, repacked, and picked up by the TSMC.
The TSMC buys only medium-sized bell pepper. The small and large-sized bell peppers are sold in the local market or trading centers.
The TSMC brings the bell peppers to the Jollibee Commissary Center in Canlubang, Laguna twice a month.
Sasa said PCC members who committed to supply the food chain’s requirements deliver 50 to 300 kilos of bell pepper weekly.
He said more farmers are encouraged to also plant the crop. Now, they can produce up to as much as 30 tons a month, a bountiful harvest which the barangay and the town celebrated and gave thanks for during the first Sili Festival.
Mayor Manny Fermin said they hope to promote the increased use of the commodity in support of the bell pepper farmers and expressed hope they can sustain the celebration as a regular tourism activity. – Hanna C. Lacsamana

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