As tourism reels from pandemic, surfing capital returns to farming

GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island (MindaNews / 20 March) – With the tourism-dependent local economy taking a beating from the impact of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, residents are now trying to rearrange their lives by returning to what had sustained them in years past – agriculture.

Over 40 hectares of idle land, mostly in remote areas in different villages, have been tilled and planted to okra, pechay, string beans, malunggay and sweet potato, among others.

Through his brainchild called “Hardin Ng Pagbabago” (Garden of Change), town police chief Capt. Vincent Wise Panuelos is helping the locals cope with the situation.

Escolastica Dulguemi, 80, covers her vegetable seedlings in her farm in General Luna, Siargao Island on Thursday (March 19, 2020). MindaNews photo by ROEL CATOTO

But Panuelos admitted that even before the Covid-19 outbreak prices of agricultural products were already high amid a thriving tourism industry.

Launched last Feb. 15, the project has given farmers and non-farmers alike a training in organic farming techniques.

It aims to propel the local economy as well as cushion the impact of Covid-19 in the area, which has worsened with the shutdown of public transport in the entire province of Surigao del Norte.

Many people in this town have become jobless and prices of food products have increased, Panuelos said.

The surfing capital was an agricultural area back in the early 2000’s. Most people relied on coconut and marine products, but it was surpassed by tourism as its main economic driver as it drew hundreds of tourists from around the world, according to the late mayor Jaime P. Rusillon.

Escolastica Dulguime, 80 of Barangay Consuelo, said support from the barangay and government agencies has motivated her to go into farming.

“They provided us the seeds, technique and technology. Our contribution is labor and attention to our plants,” she said.

Dulguime said she used to work in the rice farms here. But she lamented that rice farmers could only plant once a year because they don’t have an irrigation system.

Considered a problem among farmers, Panuelos saw this as an opportunity to change their plight.

“This is an inclusive-project and we made a collaboration with barangays and concerned government agencies such as Department of Agriculture, including a few resorts in General Luna,” he said.

Sol Noguera tends her pechay seedlings in her farm in General Luna, Siargao Island on Thursday (March 19, 2020).

He said they are using the barangays’ budget for agriculture and peace and order for sustainable food production since Siargao is insurgency-free.

He said many people told him it’s not part of his job as a police officer, but he believed that improving the plight of local farmers would mean lesser crimes.

Rolanda Quintas, 40, of Barangay Corazon, a former overseas Filipino worker in Dubai turned full-time farmer recently harvested her crops.

“I harvested twice for my okra, pechay, eggplant, chili and patola (water gourd). Now I can’t wait to harvest my 5,000 pieces of okra,” she said, adding she didn’t have a hard time selling her produce in General Luna using Facebook.

“I posted my produce on social media and my yield sold like hotcake. No wasted time, no spoilage, no middlemen,” she stressed.

“Majority of the products comes from outside Siargao, as far as Davao, Bukidnon, Agusan and Surigao. Upon reaching here the prices are so high and we can’t afford it,”  she said.

Meanwhile, to keep themselves safe from Covid-19, farmers have resorted to “social distancing” at work. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)