Sugbo Festival Dares to Do a Catandungan Landmark

If there were festival of the wind, Catanduanes would probably pose a tough lead billing with Batanes. By coincidence, these two small provinces share a homonym and a "windy reputation." If you happen to catch a geographical trivia about "land of the howling winds," that's Catanduanes, for sure. We're neither too small, nor too big a landmass. But we promise as much mystery as the serene beauty of the pacific and the lush forests wrapping up this island afloat in the eastern seas.

So, what could we offer much this time folks? Much of the ManileƱos today who might happen to bear a poor grasp of geography would mistake Catanduanes as part of any of the islets somewhere in the Frisian or Caroline Islands. Oh gosh, where in Heaven's name is that? I got the same numb answer many years back in some of my sorties in the jungle city. How can I forget?

I say this because we dare to put this relatively little known abode in a map of festival craze nationwide. And somehow, everywhere, there's this and that festival springing out of nowhere. That was not so before in yesteryears.

Catandunganons are happy with the rate things are going on with festival craze. We are joining the bandwagon, I guess.

Catanduanes is basically agricultural province, and we are glad of the prime moving of certain government programs in the local government units, that run in tandem with Government Organizations (including DAR, of course), which put emphasis on pump-priming agriculture.

This has been on paper, so to say, through the province's Integrated Development Plan putting major crops (Lasa, Abaca and Coconut) as focal point of various agricultural productivity efforts.

So many advocacies have been there in place and, I bet, the Sugbo Festival (first time ever) in Catanduanes held last May 14, 2005 in the northern town of Caramoran provided an initial impetus to would be festivals that might follow. I learned that there's a "Dinahit Festival" held in the nearby town of Pandan or the upcoming Abaca Expo in the capital this May. But that's another story.

The activity was initiated by an Advocacy Group of well meaning Caramoranons (townsfolk of Caramoran). Today, it has evolved as the Sugbo Foundation, Inc. Some agencies such as the DTI, DA, DAR, FIDA, and both the Provincial and Municipal Local Government Units were immensely involved.

What's in the name?

A DTI briefer revealed that Tiger Grass (Thysanolaena Maxima Kuntz) is potentially commercial grass specie popularly known as Sugbo or Lasa in Catanduanes. It is a bushy grass, which grows erect to a height of 1.5 to 3.5 meters.

Every tiller in a clump has a cylindrical stalk measuring one centimeter in diameter on which narrow spearhead leaves are arranged alternately at 1-3 inches interval. Each stalk bears a panicle with slender spikelets which is commercially marketed whether in its raw form or as finished product like softbrooms and table dusters, stuffing mattresses and cushions, and decorative items.

Tiger grass possesses wide ecological adaptation. It grows in marginally hilly lands and degraded areas; mostly dominated forests, wherein which, cultivation of other economic crops prove non-feasible. These are planted as an intercrop to coconut, abaca, and banana in both the higher slopes and in flatlands.

It is a perennial crop, which bears panicles yearly starting January until June. The peak harvest is February to April. The panicles could be harvested one to two months after panicle emergence. Highly matured spikelets become brownish and brittle and no longer good for broom making.

Tiger grass is propagated either sexually or asexually. If propagated by rootstock, it will bear panicle within a year after planting. However, if propagated from seeds, it would bear panicle four to five years from planting.

There are three known varieties of Sugbo grown in Catanduanes, which could be classified according to the colors of its panicles - the yellow, the green, and the brown. The yellow variety is the most preferred by farmers. Although late maturing, it produces longer panicles and stronger spikelets making it more durable than the other two varieties. Yield potential of this variety ranges from 1000 to 5000 beer size bundles per hectare.

Opportunities

Catanduanes produces the best sugbo or lasa variety in the country aside from being a champion province in abaca. Its abundance (estimated annual production is 563,952 beer sizes) and simple technology required (plantation needs clearing only in order for the shoots to appear after harvest), pave way for bigger investment opportunities for lasa growers. Fortunately, a sizable number of them are Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).

Caramoran, a northern town where a bigger bulk of lasa production is concentrated and which the DAR gains a greater LAD target, could very well provide a launching pad in this agri-business undertaking.

Promotion

With the bigger economic turnouts for farmers engaged in lasa production, the Sugbo festival proved useful in terms of promotions and marketing.

The human drama and the touch of art made this crop a spectacular protagonist. The street dances, with an array of young men and women clad in raw sugbo green varieties was a sight beautiful to behold.

A young entrepreneur, who happened to be batch-mate years ago, was caught with awe. "I hope event like this should stay, as a sort of mixing trade with fun. This is great."

Meanwhile, an inter-agency cooperation had been in place in support to Lasa industry promotions. The DTI had to spearhead as a matter of mandate together with other sectors and government institutions (including the DAR). There's no doubt the festival showed what it wanted to send to the public; that it means business.

Spill over

Sugbo festival painted a clear picture of how agri-business trends work for the marginalized farming sector. For example, the street drama has shaped a significant niche in the province. Others went on to stage their own mini-festivals that were basically attuned to their agri-business endeavors.

Come every month of October then, the scenario had drastically evolved into a sort of "product-tourism focused" parade. It became the theme of the culminating festival--the Catandungan Festival, which marks the province's foundation anniversary. It highlights all the eleven municipalities' best crops and tourism prowess staged in a diorama of artful street presentations.

The Sugbo festival as it dared to build an investment bridge for Caramoran, started molding a different shape for the province's Catanduangan Festival -- the mother activity being held annually during October.

The bright side of this was gleaned from the farmers' socio-cultural awareness as it mixes with art and ingenuity.

The DAR, as it continues to build Agrarian Reform Communities of hope and empowered beneficiaries, would pretty well embark on this trend and strike where the investment haven is.

What have we got?

Festivals, especially those that cater to agri-business types would be highly encouraged. As a local Mayor quipped, "they make us move with the aim in mind, and with pride."

The sugbo festival provided a substance, I guess, which could stir sagging spirits in the far flung areas. This mode of communicating market cues especially in the rural communities would be fine as channel to sustain focus and interest.

At the same time, it will re-live and pass on to posterity our cherished traditions and culture that's typically unique. In the face of fast-changing civilization that's slowly de-humanizing us; we might as well never lose sight of what we are and those around us.

Festivals provide avenues where we can play around and savor the grandeur of Creation around us. They must stay, as a balancing life force of our gravely complex environment.

Source: DTI-Catanduanes: Logical Framework for Tiger Grass Industry Development 2001-2003 c/o Dir. Ireneo Panti Jr.

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