MA AURORA, AURORA, March 16, 2006
 (STAR) By Manny Galvez - A P21-million agro-forestry project designed to make this province a major food basket in Central Luzon through mass production of fruits, vegetables and rice within a period of five years has taken off in a vast 312-hectare area in this town.

The center of the Aurora Food Production and Agro-forestry Project (AFPAP) is located in Barangay Dianawan, sitio Canili where ground preparations are underway.

The project is a brainchild of Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, a native of the nearby capital town of Baler, and the provincial government, represented by his younger sister, Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo.

Angara said the AFPAP, which will enable the province to produce rice, vegetables and fruits that are distinct to Aurora, will be financed at a cost of P21.2 million, half of which will come in the form of a loan from the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) and the other half by the provincial government.

Aside from the two Angaras, the project is also the result of collaborative efforts among House Deputy Minority Leader Juan Edgardo Angara, the Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and the municipal government represented by Mayor Ariel Bitong.

Angara said the food basket project will pump-prime food production and set in place marketing infrastructure, post-harvest facilities (PHFs), development assistance such as technology development and dissemination, training and market assistance.

Angara-Castillo said the project will provide livelihood to an initial 200 farmers in the four barangays of Dianawan, Galintuja,San Juan and Decoliat who will be tapped in the mass production of various agro-forestry products such as fruit trees and seeds, forest trees, vegetables, coffee and cereal and production of livestock. The targeted beneficiaries are Igorots, Ifugaos and owners of certificate of land ownership awards (CLOAs).

Small fruits and vegetable farmers in central Aurora covering the towns of Baler, Dipaculao and San Luis and in the northern towns of Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag, more popularly known as the Dicadi area, will also benefit with the proposed establishment of a trading post where all kinds of products will be showcased for retail and wholesale marketing.

Angara-Castillo said this would eventually address the unemployment problem in the province which, at 18.3 percent, is the second highest in the region. She noted that agriculture production forms the backbone of the provincial government’s six-point development agenda anchored on HEALTH, the acronym for health, agriculture,livelihood, trade and environment and human resource development. She said the provincial government, in support of the farmers, is providing hybrid rice at subsidized prices in each of the eight municipalities of the province.

"We want Aurora to be the source of fruits, vegetables and rice not only in Central Luzon but also in the country," she said of the project.

Among the fruit trees and seeds that will be propagated in the project site are lanzones, durian, rambutan and mangosteen while forest trees include molave, narra, bamboo grass and eucalyptus. Agro-forestry products that will be grown include mahogany, pineapple and kasoy.

Juan Edgardo Angara said the province boasts of high-value crops and vegetables whose quality is comparable to those being produced in Tagaytay and Baguio City such as cucumber, Chinese cabbage, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Baguio beans and garden peas. However, the province depends on its supply of fruits and vegetables from Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Nueva Vizcaya and Baguio.

The senator, a former agriculture secretary, said the fruit crops and vegetables that will be produced in the project site are priority crops of the Key Commercial Crops Development Program (KCCDP), High Value Commercial Crops (HVCC) program and the Key Commodity Road maps of the DA which are now being developed because of their industrial and commercial potentials.

The project is expected to augment agriculture production in the province whose primary industry is agriculture which employs half of the population. At least 38,928 hectares or 13 percent of its land area consist of cultivated land. Aside from rice and coconut, the province’s major crops include coffee, bananas, root crops, corn, peanuts, citrus fruits, black pepper and abaca. The province also has an abundance of poultry and livestock farms.

In addition, forestry is another industry that can be harnessed since 73.3 percent of the province’s 308,122 hectares are woodland.

A working paper prepared by the technical working group for the AFPAP has laid down a nine-point strategy to successfully implement the project. These include participatory and area-based approach, LGU-led program implementation, capability-building, productivity improvement and counterpart schemes.

Angara said the project is consistent with the various DA programs such as Republic Act 8435 or the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) which aims to strengthen the agriculture and fishery sectors through modernization, food security and food self-sufficiency, private sector participation and people empowerment; the Ginintuang Masaganang ani (GMA) among others.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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