Negros Occidental is a food haven, an arts hub, a travel adventure destination, and a thriving community of entrepreneurs.
If you still think that Negros Occidental is just about sugarcane (remember them?), the Masskara Festival, and the movie Oro, Plata, Mata, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
You can get a glimpse of what it now offers at the 37th Negros Trade Fair, happening at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati from September 26 to October 1. You may even get a crash course on Negros, its people, and its history if you look more closely and explore beyond what’s on display.
Negros Trade Fair: How it started
Here’s a primer: The beginnings of the fair are directly linked to the political and economic history of Negros. It began in 1985 following the collapse of its sugar industry, the region’s bread and butter since the Spanish era.
That collapse had been boiling since the dawn of the decade and saw many sugar planters being forced into bankruptcy or deep debt by the administration-backed sugar monopoly and crony control.
It all came to a head in 1984 when nearly 200,000 sugar workers lost their livelihood and about a million migrant agricultural workers and their families in Negros suffered what became infamously known as the “Negros Famine.”
A survey by the National Nutrition Council of the Philippines that year estimated that about 350,000 children—40 percent of Negros Occidental residents under the age of 14—suffered from malnutrition. Infant death statistics at Bacolod City Hospital rose 67 percent, and Negros’ infant mortality rose to nearly double the national average, with most of the deaths attributed to malnutrition.
That dire situation forced Negrenses to take matters into their own hands, literally, and help themselves out of their economic misery. They rebuilt by reinventing themselves and their economy.
They turned to their creativity, resources and resourcefulness, and entrepreneurial spirit and started making products—food, clothes, accessories, handicrafts, souvenir items—intended for selling in Manila. This gave birth to the Negros Trade Fair in 1985.
Thirty-seven years later, these micro, small, and medium enterprises comprise around 98 percent of the businesses in the province. Around 80 of them will be showcasing their products including bestsellers and new creations at the Fair in Glorietta starting on the 26th.
This year’s fair is built around the theme “Amuma,” a Hiligaynon word that means “to foster, to nurture, to take care of” and represents the core values of the Negrense people. It would be a great introduction to the province for the Fair’s visitors.
The POST got a preview of some of these offerings during a recent trip to Bacolod courtesy of the NTF organizers including the Association of Negros Producers (ANP), a non-stock, non-profit and non-political organization composed of professionals and entrepreneurs with roots in Negros.
Here are some of our favorites.
Tomato Mansi Cocktail
A non-alcoholic drink that’s a mix of tomato and calamansi juices. Yes, it doesn’t make sense on paper but it makes a whole lot of sense to the actual taste buds. It’s not the tangy, citrusy beverage that it sounds like: it’s actually a perfectly tasteful, refreshing blend of its two main ingredients.
This product won Best Beverage in this year’s inaugural Pilak Awards, a competition run by the Provincial Capitol Government of Negros that aims to encourage product development and innovation. A much-deserved victory, we must say. Cheers to that!
Crispy Sarisa Chips
Another one that shouldn’t work but does spectacularly. A much deserved winner of the Most Unique honor at the Pilak Awards, these chips created by a female instructor at De La Salle Bacolod are made of sarisa leaves, a.k.a. aratilis, coated in light batter and deep fried to a perfect state of crunchiness.
The aratilis leaves are sourced straight from trees in the mountains of Isabela, a small municipality in southern Negros Occidental. To borrow a line from a popular chips brand, once you pop, you can’t stop. Available in Cheese, Barbecue, Sour Cream flavors.
Coffee capsule earrings
Speaking of food and drinks, this product is labeled as “fashion that feeds.” These gorgeous, eye-catching earrings are made with upcycled coffee pods. How do they feed?
Purchases provide livelihood to Artisans of Hope of NVC Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Bacolod, while also supporting the foundation’s feeding program for undernourished children from marginalized communities. Necklaces and Christmas trinkets are also available.
They’re not actually made of the pineapple fruit per se but rather of fabric culled from discarded pineapple leaves. Extraction is said to be done using solar-powered energy, “which equates to lower carbon footprint.”
These cool, comfy unisex shoes not only provide additional income to Negros farmers for something they otherwise would not have any use for, they also provide livelihood to local weavers and artisans. Available in a whole range of colors.
This may sound like an oxymoron on paper but in real life it makes total sense. The closest product to it is the Chocolate Mango but this one is even better for its fusion of flavors and textures and how seamless they all mix.
Winner of a Bulawan Award for product innovation, this delicious and delightful treat is made of pili nut paste wrapped in candied camias prunes, dipped in chocolate and laced with white chocolate. It’s official name is the very apt Treasures.
Cogon and pandan tableware
Here are two excellent alternatives to buri. Both cogon and pandan fibers are sturdier and thrive in the foothills in Negros. Most notably, they are harvested and cleaned by the same hands that expertly turn them into beautiful crafts—talented and skillful local women, wives of farmers.
That’s the human touch that makes these placemats, coasters, fruit bowls, hats, napkin holders, and bread baskets full of life.
The 37th Negros Trade Fair is an inclusive showcase of the artistry and craftsmanship of Negrenses—including farmers’ wives to children with special needs. These shoes, bags, clothes, and other items feature artwork by the students of Happy Beginners School of Learning, a 10-year-old educational institution that provides support and advocates for children with special needs and their families.
Frozen batchoy kits
It’s not the original La Paz Batchoy. It’s arguably better: a classic Bacolod recipe from 1984 from one of the iconic restaurants in the city. Now you don’t need to go all the way there to enjoy it. Each ready-to-cook kit has all the ingredients of one of Bacolodnons’ favorite mid-morning or afternoon meryenda — pancit noodles, beef, pork, chicharon, fried garlic, and batchoy broth. All you have to do is heat, pour, and mix.
There are literally a thousand other incredible products available at the fair. You might even have to make several trips to Glorietta to get everything you want including your Christmas goodies for this year. Best be ready with your time, resources, and energy. And be prepared to know more about and fall in love with Negros.
The 37th Negros Trade Fair will be held at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati from September 26 to October 1.