City pins hope on sunflower to boost local tourism, economy

LIGAO CITY, Mar 25 (PNA)–This once-farming town is slowly transforming itself into one of Albay’s three urban centers, and is capitalizing on the sunflower to boost its local tourism and economy.

As its first step, it launched on Monday afternoon the first “Sunflower Festival” that highlighted the celebration of its 13th year as a city.

The “Sunflower Festival” will join the family of festivals being observed in Albay, including the “Daragang Magayon Festival” of the province of Albay, “Ibalong Festival” of Legazpi City and “Tabak Festival” of Tabaco City.

The “Sunflower Festival” is a week-long event that depicted the city’s religious, cultural and economic transformation from a second-class town to a component city, according to Mayor Patricia Gonzales Alsua.

The festival’s culminating rites were highlighted by what event organizers called the “Festival of Festivals” where participants from seven towns and cities joined and exhibited their local street dancing talents.

Among those that participated were the street dancers of the Guinobatan Longaniza Festival; Pinyasan of Daet, Camarines Norte; Rodeo Masbateño of Masbate City; Ibalong of Legazpi City; Peñafrancia Voyadores of Naga City; Tinagba of Iriga City and the Sunflower Dance Group of this city.

Clad in their colorful costumes, the parade participants danced their way through the three-kilometer stretch from Barangay Tuburan to the City Hall where they also exhibited their lively dance choreographed numbers.

Thousands of residents and guests, including foreigners, lined up the city streets here and were awed as they saw the seven contingents of street performers dance their routines in ethnic, jazz and modern rhythms.

Along some portions of the street, sunflower plants nurtured by residents in front of their residences also lined up.

To the surprise of the thousand of people witnessing the presentation, taking the center stage of the street dance exhibition was the first-timer contingent from this city wherein close to a hundred performers clad in colorful costumes performed the “Sunflower” choreography with precision and grace.

Alsua said the dance choreography was a portrayal of how the city has gone through an evolutionary process to become what it is now.

“From the legendary roots of the five ancient ‘datus’ that instituted this land, to the gift of the Spanish colonizers – the gift of faith — and up to the present where we, Ligaoenos, take pride to be named the ‘Sunflower City’ of Bicol, ” the lady city executive explained.

“This city is proud of its rich cultural heritage and good social values and the making of this city is truly a great thing to happen,” Alsua said.

People were also amazed with the performance of the Rodeo Masbateño where the performers were attired in cowboy vest and did a barn dance exhibit.

The Daet “Pinyasan” displayed not only its dance performers but also a float adorned with the native fruit, the “pineapple,” while the Naga City contingent paraded a boat float along with the “voyadores” and the replica of the Virgin of Peñafrancia, the Patroness of Bicol.

Albay 3rd District Rep. Fernando Gonzales said in an interview that the sunflower idea was conceptualized when he was still the mayor a decade ago.

Gonzales said the concept came during a school dance presentation at the Barangay Amtic elementary school where pupils where dressed in sunflower costumes.

“This gave me the idea of the sunflower, which I later found out to be a viable industry that can be carried out in Ligao,” he said.

He said this city has been tagged as the Sunflower City in Bicol because of the abundance of the flowers planted in some 20 hectares here.

Gonzales said he is looking forward to the vast potential of the sunflower industry.

Quoting a research study, Gonzales said sunflowers produce oil seeds that are used for cooking oil, meals and confectionary products.

Its by-products, when processed, can be used as ingredients in livestock feed rations.

Compared to soybean, sunflower meal contains 50 percent oil and about 20 percent protein, the study said.

Demand for sunflower oil has increased as food processors search for sources of transfat-free vegetable oil.

Food manufacturers abroad have switched to sunflower oil, Gonzales claimed.

As for the health benefits, the study, he said, showed sunflower seed oil as one of the healthiest vegetable oils for cooking because it contains linoleic oil, high oleic and mid oleic.

Gonzales said some businessmen have already approached him and signified their interest to buy the sunflowers that the city has planted, but their demand for the product was so enormous that the planters here could not yet meet their supply requirements.

The average price of sunflower oil products in the foreign market ranges from US$ 24 to US$ 33 per kilograms depending on the demand and supply, he said.

The study also revealed that the countries of Canada, Spain and Turkey are the leading buyers of sunflower seeds and oil while the largest suppliers are Argentina and United states. (PNA)