Domoguen: Can Tabuk rice be saved? Can we do it?

IT IS the source of the best and most expensive rice in the market. That was my earliest recollection of Tabuk City.

That was about 50 years ago, and Tabuk was not a city but probably, mostly rice fields.

Tabuk City is the Capital of the Province of Kalinga. It became a City when Congress approved RA 9009 and Joint Resolution 1 in 2006 (33 city-hood bills converting 33 municipalities in the country into cities).

The Senate approved the city-hood bills, Tabuk included, in February 2007.

Tabuk City has a total land area of 70,025 hectares (as of 2007). It has
been, and remain today as the rice granary of the Cordillera. It is still the source of the best rice for many Cordillerans. But they have to get their rice direct from farmers in Tabuk City, or from a trusted source in the local market. Otherwise, the rice could be adulterated but is still sold as Tabuk rice.

As a rice production area, Tabuk City is uniquely situated on a plateau, with a terrain ranging from flat to very steep or from 0 degrees to above 50 degrees, and an altitude of 200-500 feet above sea level.

Its western portion is characterized by interlinking mountain steep slopes, isolated flatlands, plateaus and valleys while the eastern portion consists of low lands, and wide plains of rice fields.

The steep portions from 30 degrees to above 50 degrees slope and more than 1060 meters above sea level are portions of Dupag, Naneng, Lucog to Guilayon, Magnao, and Nambucayan following the road towards Bontoc, Mountain Province.

The city enjoys a long and warm day length and a cool gentle breeze blowing in the evening. These conditions favor the production of high-quality rice.

The city is drained by two major rivers (Chico River and Mallig River) and numerous tributaries, creeks, and streams. Up to 1990(s), these water resources were excellent sources of fresh water irrigation, which is also good for rice production.

Tabuk City is comprised of 42 barangays. In 1918, it has a population of only 4,079. In the 2015 census, the population was 110,642 people, with a density of 160 inhabitants per square kilometer or 410 inhabitants per square mile. Considered a fifth class city, it has an annual income of P110,414,133.00 (2007).

The local citizens, along with the local government units of Tabuk City and Kalinga must now seriously reconsider or re-think the future development direction of Tabuk City as the Cordillera's rice granary or simply as the main source of quality rice and contributor to the country's quest for rice self-sufficiency.

For a long time, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agencies has been the City's main development investor. The partnership did not only support and promote the city's agricultural livelihood and economic development but trained its farmers to become good stewards of their land.

The LGU of Tabuk City has persistently won as outstanding national rice achiever and is a hall of fame awardee. For the past two decades, the city has also produced outstanding farmers at the regional and national levels.

The City Government proposed that the city will become the Regional Agro-Industrial Center which aims to further develop the city and make it the agro-industrial center of the Cordillera region.

These aspirations are threatened by urban sprawl. Housing, hospitals, schools, hotels, and all kinds of industries besides farming have encroached into the city's prime agricultural (rice) lands.

I asked the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) provincial irrigation manager, Mr. Patrick Resurrection if there was a decrease in the service area of the Upper Chico River Irrigation System (UCRIS) from the time it was constructed until today? He estimated some 1,000 hectares of the system's service area has been lost to land conversion from the 1970s to the present.

When we consulted the office's current records, it showed that the UCRIS service area in Tabuk City is 8,158 hectares with converted areas totaling 896 hectares. The permanently non-restorable areas are 142 hectares or a total firmed-up area of 7,119.95 hectares.

Currently, the total operational area serviced by the UCRIS is 6,584 hectares with 6,348 farmer-beneficiaries. The non-operational areas are 535 hectares.

Siltation is also an increasing problem in the UCRIS. This is caused by road construction, farming, and mining activities upstream. Siltation does not only contribute to the destruction of irrigation canals but also farms and infrastructure downstream. Silt is a major source of highly toxic inorganic arsenic found in rocks and soil or dissolved in water.

I visited an NIA irrigation canal in Tabuk City one sunny morning last week and I was surprised to notice it is flowing with yellowish-brownish water. I hope the water is not mixed with mine tailings and effluents, which I am certain is high with arsenic and other inorganic chemicals.

Arsenic from contaminated water accumulates in the paddy. Rice readily absorbs arsenic that causes acute and chronic adverse health effects, including cancer, cardiovascular disease (hypertension and atherosclerosis), neurological disorders, gastrointestinal disturbances, liver disease and renal disease, reproductive health effects, dermal changes and other health disorders. I suggest that a chemical analysis of the soils in the rice fields of Tabuk City be done.

There is a need to synchronize the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) of Tabuk City and its neighboring municipalities, as to be integrated and properly developed to be useful for the purpose of providing a broad strategic framework for the development and conservation of land resources, a generalized long-range policy guide that provides the basis for future decisions on the physical, social, and economic development to benefit the residents of the city and its adjacent municipalities to as far as the borders of Kalinga with its neighboring provinces.

Can we save Tabuk rice? The answer is definitely, yes. And there is much more that needs all our attention to save our natural resources and our rice farms from total destruction. Let us start with useful plans.