Abrenians Fear Losing Their Rice to the Mines

The balatey plant grows almost one meter, according to Abra farmers. I could be harvested within four to five months from planting.

Like balatey, gangkab is also soft and tastes good. Its grains are short and rounded. “Kasla nabubusog” (It looks like a full stomach), Romeo told me. Unlike the balatey, however, the plant is shorter and is often swarmed by pests.

“Isu’t paborito nga atakien dagiti insekto” (It is a favorite of insects), he said.

Bangkudo is the most pest-resistant of all the indigenous rice varieties in Abra. Many farmers here like to plant it.

Pisla is not as soft as balatey. It tends to expand and one has to use more water to cook it, compared to what other rice varieties require.

“Nabellad, isunga adu ti pakanen na” (It expands so it feeds more) Belisario said.

Balatinaw is sometime referred to as the black rice because of its dark color. It is considered one of the varieties locals call bayag (literally long wait) because it takes six months to harvest

Rice in Abra now commands a fortune. A salop (a local rice measurement equivalent to more than two kilos, using a small container) would now normally cost P70 ($1.66 at the April 25 exchange rate of $1:P42.04) if one gets the whole cavan, which is around 20 salop or 50 kilos.

Balatinaw, however, commands as high as P100 ($2.38) per salop. It is the most sought for, according to Romeo and Andres.

I realized, these are what the farmers in Abra would be losing once large mining operations get in their way. I suddenly felt uneasy hearing the news that a foreign mining company is hell-bent on getting the people’s consent to its operations.

How much are the locals losing to the mines? Invaluable are these rice fields, and the indigenous rice varieties.

I heard that 16 of the 27 towns in Abra would be covered by mining operations. In Baay-Licuan, alone, the site of the local government, Poblacion, is said to be in real danger if Olympus Mining is to start its operations. The mine site would be only two kilometers from the seat of government, and yet, locals do not see any action from the officials to stop the mines.

“Magaburan mismo ti Poblacion” (Poblacion would be buried in mud), Ama Ernesto Quinto said. He chairs the Baay-Licuan Takderan Omnu a Karbengan (Balitok). He said, the mayor does not say anything, however.

“But you also go to the mines?” I asked again.

Many of us are small-scale miners, they would tell me with all dignity. In Baay-Licuan, at least four of 11 communities are engaged in mining, which augments their income from planting upland rice. All barangays (villages) plant rice as a major crop.

The barangays Nalbuan, Tumalip, Bulbulala and Mapisla have majority of farming households also engaged in mining. A fifth barangay, Subagan, also have mining families but not majority of them do small-scale mining. Barangays Bonglo (Patagui), Cawayan, Domenglay, Lenneng, Mogao and Poblacion are purely agricultural with no mining households.

Baay-Licuan is a fifth class town. Abra, a 3rd-class province, is among the country’s 10 poorest provinces. Northern Dispatch / Posted by (Bulatlat.com)

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