Aparri, Cagayan Town Fiesta Opens with Veggies and Aramang

When the Term ‘aramang’ (Ilocano for alamang) is mentioned, the town being referred to is none other than Aparri, Cagayan, which nature has uniquely blessed with the soft-shelled pink shrimp specie scientifically known as Nematopalaemon tenuipes or spider shrimp. It is Aparri’s “One Town, One Product” commodity.

By Tony A. Rodriguez

Aparri fishermen catch the shrimp where the mighty Cagayan River, the country’s longest and largest, meets the waters of the Luzon Strait. The fishermen use traditional fishing boats known as bannuar, each manned by a 15-man crew. These days, though, the bannuar are motorized. A drift filter net attached to two wooden poles at the boat’s starboard side and reaching a depth of 10 to 12 meters catches the shrimp, which abounds when the river waters are turbid because of heavy rains upstream up to the Caraballo Mountains in the south where the Cagayan River originates. It traverses the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Isabela, and Cagayan itself before ending up at Aparri.

The reason for the size of the bannuar crew makes sense when one sees how the aramang begin to fill and weigh down its net. The men have to position themselves at their boat’s port side for balance, so that the boat doesn’t tip over. In a good day, a bannuar can catch enough aramang to fill about 50 20-liter cooking oil cans—which is the standard measure for aramang. A can of fresh aramang weighs 14 kilograms and yields 3.5 kilos of the dried shrimp. Immediate drying adds much value to the commodity, so smaller boats rush part of the bannuar’s catch to town so that dryers can sort and prepare it for the sun before noon.

Easily distinguishable from other shrimp by its size and color, aramang used to be harvested without regard for its conservation and sustainable production. In the 2008 season, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, Aparri fishermen hauled in 4,160 kilograms of the shrimp. The uncontrolled fishing, however, caused the seasonal catch to gradually decrease since then.

To remedy the situation and prevent the possible loss of a source of livelihood for its constituents, the municipal government brokered a so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” among the bannuar owners to limit the catching of the shrimp to only five days a month, and only in the daytime when the species is not gravid, provided sunny weather prevails. If it’s rainy, no catching is allowed because the bulk of the aramang is sun-dried. If the aramang cannot be sun-dried, traders buy it cheap, much to the fishermen’s detriment. The viajeros bring the fresh shrimp to the Ilocos provinces for drying there, and to Pangasinan for processing into the salted shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) that is an indispensable companion for the popular Filipino dish called kare-kare.

Sun-dried aramang serve to flavor mixed vegetable dishes such as Ilocanos’ dinengdeng and the Ibanags’ (native Cagayanos) inabraw, especially during the months that the fish supply is low and is thus expensive. When fresh, the shrimp makes good kinilaw with calamansi, and can be easily prepared as fritters (ukoy), adobo, or simply fried with garlic.

Since 2009, as a thanksgiving for its bounties, Aparri has reinforced its annual town fiesta in May with an Aramang Festival. The fiesta’s highlight is on the May 10 feast day of the town’s patron saint, San Pedro Telmo, when all the bannuar bear statues of saints in a fluvial procession from the town’s Appagonan, which flows out to the Cagayan River to the sea, and back.

This boat on the Appagonan River in Aparri rushes newly-caught aramang from the bigger bannuar out in the sea back to shore so the shrimp can be sun-dried immediately.

This year, the fiesta’s opening day featured an Aramang Cooking Contest, which took place on the second day of the agreed-upon and strictly observed five-day shrimp-catching period. The day was also for farmers participating in a Vegetable ‘Pinaka’ (The Most) Competition to promote veggie production for selfsufficiency and optimum nutrition.

In 2011, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA) of Cagayan had begun disseminating vegetable-growing technologies in hundred of barangays in the entire province, in line with the OPA’s goal of setting up a network of vegetableproducing barangays and towns that will eventually make Cagayan self-sufficient, especially in high-value vegetables that it sources mainly from Pangasinan and Benguet. OPA technologists had worked with the Aparri Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) and the town’s barangay councils in holding seminars for farmers.

The OPA even went to the extent of bringing interested farmers and municipal technicians on observation-study tours of vegetable farms in Pangasinan to help them acquire more knowhow. Among the study tour destinations was the Allied Botanical Corporation research-breeding facility in Tayug town, where all kinds of vegetables are grown year-round.

“Veggie growing has caught on with our farmers, especially in our barangays west of the Cagayan River,” says Aparri MAO head George Quines. “In 2013 we began holding our Pinaka contest and it was quite a success. This time, however, drought set in early so the number of entries isn’t as encouraging as we had hoped it would be.”

Farmers submitted entries in the squash, upo, patola, sitao, eggplant, papaya, white corn, and yellow corn, which were judged according to size or weight. Hybrid rice farmers were judged based on the size of their yield. Winners received cash prizes and certificates from mayor Shalimar Tumaru, members of the municipal council, and Quines.

Tessie Leaño of Brgy. Tallungan, a gateway to Aparri along the Cagayan Valley Highway, won for the longest patola she entered. An enterprising farmer who cleared part of a three-fourth hectare former garbage dump to plant to vegetables, she earns considerably from patola and pechay, which she says she doesn’t need to fertilize at all.

Rolando Pescador, who grows veggies in a 2,000-square meter lot in Paraddun Sur—one of Aparri’s 16 western barangays—won for entering the heaviest squash in the contest. He also plants white and yellow corn. He fertilizes his squash vines with carabao manure, and his corn with urea and 14-14-14. Domingo Rabino of Paddaya, one of the town’s two easternmost barangays, won in the heaviest upo category.

Another lady farmer, Margie Rivera of Brgy. Dodan, won in two categories: eggplant and sitao. She fertilized these with carabao manure and carbonized rice hulls. Jeffrey Lucis won with the biggest Red Lady papaya, the seeds of which his uncle gave him to plant on the dikes in the perimeter of his homelot in Brgy. Caagamman. He also grows gabi in the diked portion of his lot.

Ricardo Madriaga, also of Paraddun Sur, won for the biggest white corn ears produced from his one-hectare field. He also grows yellow corn in another hectare. The yellow corn winner was William Bermudez of Mabanguc, another western barangay. “More and more of our farmers west of the Cagayan River have begun growing yellow corn after their main rice crop since a hybrid corn seed company conducted techno-demos there,” says Quines. “Most of them have tried it in one hectare and are being encouraged by the crop’s profitability.”

In hybrid rice, a Brgy. Gaddang farmer, Mario Calanoga, achieved the highest yield of more than 180 cavans in 0.8 hectares. Gaddang and the other Aparri barangays of Toran, Tallungan, Paddaya, and Dodan are part of the 10,000 hectares that comprise a service area for the National Irrigation Administration’s Magapit Pump Irrigation System, serving four towns in Northern Cagayan.

This appeared as “A Town Fiesta Opens with Veggies and Aramang” in Agriculture Monthly’s August 2014 issue.

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