Jerson Kent Danao

Published: April 29, 2024

BAGUIO, PHILIPPINES — For residents of Baguio in northern Philippines, the annual Panagbenga Festival has become a season of bumper-to-bumper traffic, as masses of tourists descend upon the city’s main thoroughfare Session Road, lined with seemingly unending rows of shawarma stalls.

Held every February, the festival draws thousands of visitors to the “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” giving a major boost to the city’s economy.  

Panagbenga, which means “season of blooming” in the Kankanaey language, bears deep significance for Baguio. The festival was first held in 1995 as a symbol of the city’s hope and resilience after the 1990 Luzon earthquake. 

Panagbenga is also an opportune time for flower enthusiasts as the event serves as a showcase for Benguet province’s floral industry. The Department of Agriculture said in 2020 that the Cordillera Administrative Region produces 53 million dozen cut flowers annually worth P28 million. 

Most of the cut flowers come from the mountain municipalities of Atok, Tublay, Kibungan, and La Trinidad in Benguet.

But climate change casts a shadow as rising heat and water scarcity threaten flower production in the area. 

A gardener’s challenge

Amante Garapan says his parting message to his plants before his stall closes at 5:00 pm. (Jensen Paul Danao)

Amante Garapan, a gardener at the Baguio City Orchidarium told Climate Tracker Asia that sales of flowers and plants peak during the flower festival, lasting until the Holy Week.  

Panagbenga is really important for us because there are more buyers and we earn a lot of money from them. It’s happier here in Baguio every Panagbenga time,” Garapan said in Filipino. 

Tourists no longer need to wait for February just so they can see breathtaking florals. They can simply visit the Orchidarium, a botanical garden home to a variety of orchids and other ornamental plants. Inside, plants are sold for as low as P10. 

Those seeking to bring out their inner “plantito” and “plantita” selves may also visit the Orchidarium for plant-breeding tips from seasoned gardeners, such as Garapan, who has been working there for 27 years. 

Garapan’s day starts by watering and propagating the plants, ensuring they are in good condition. He diligently waters the plants just after arriving a few minutes before his shift starts at 8 a.m.

However, Garapan finds himself watering the plants frequently as the soil dries up quickly. The hot weather has also made it difficult for his plants to bloom since the heat causes the leaves to roll and cup.

“They dry up easily. Sometimes, even if you had just watered them, they look dry,” he said. “Their leaves get destroyed, they curl up because of the extreme heat.”

Heat-induced stress 

Deign Soriano, an assistant professor of biology at the University of the Philippines–Baguio, says that the increase in temperature contributes to heat stress among plants. 

“The effects of the changing climate exacerbate the ambient air temperatures that we have. This could induce heat stress, particularly on the reproductive structures of a flowering plant,” he said. 

According to Soriano, the rising heat could have a detrimental effect on how flowers bloom.

“The [floral] intensity, [or] the number of flowers that can bloom during their reproductive period, may be reduced. It can also result in delayed bloomings,” Soriano said.

Due to the ongoing El Niño, the Baguio Water District warned that the city’s water supply is in short supply because of the decreasing level in its reservoirs.

Since water is an indispensable component to a plant’s survival, Soriano said that the city needs to adopt a better water management mechanism to mitigate the effects of climate change on plants. 

Erlinda Diwas, an agriculturist from the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO), noted that inadequate water supply affects flower production in Baguio City. 

“The flowers won’t bloom as much if they’re watered inadequately. If there are no flowers, we won’t have seeds to harvest,” Diwas said.

The seeds CEPMO will use for the next planting season are harvested from the flowers of the plants. Diwas also said that the limited supply of seed varieties yields a low-level production of flowering plants.   

“The seeds just circulate. Whatever we harvest are the ones we plant. But hopefully, we can purchase new seeds of new species,” she said.

A 2020 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) found that farmers in La Trinidad, Benguet, are experiencing a shift in weather patterns. They reported more frequent rain during the dry season, warmer temperatures during the rainy season, and stronger cyclones hitting later in the year.

Climate-smart farming

The orchidarium is a haven for plant lovers and it houses the flower harvests of the Benguet province. (Jensen Paul Danao)

Diversifying plant species is a climate-smart and resilient way of doing flower farming, according to Soriano. He said that farmers should also consider flower species that require less water and tolerate fluctuating temperatures.

Propagating flowers is water intensive, so water conservation practices are crucial in keeping flower farming more sustainable. Soriano suggested installing rainwater collection systems as an additional water source for the plants.

Soriano added that soil management, crop rotation, and investment in weather and emergency monitoring systems would help flower farmers and their produce cope with climate change. 

“It is important that we invest in monitoring and early warning systems [so that] at least we can inform farmers in advance…to protect the plants,” he said.

The PIDS study stressed the need for “accurate, timely and relevant climate forecasts.” This information empowers farmers to make informed decisions that can maintain or improve their yields. However, simply providing such information is not enough. 

The study identified key barriers hindering the effective use of climate information in Benguet’s cut flower industry: limited financial resources, knowledge and capacity of farmers themselves, and the gap between the state weather bureau and farmers’ needs. 

Beyond the ‘season of blooming’

Marigolds, snap dragons and zinnias blossom even under the scorching sun. (Jensen Paul Danao)

Baguio City has greatly benefited from the ecosystem that allowed these flowers to blossom. “We’re the city [that is] abundant [in] opulent flowers because we know how to take care of our biodiversity, particularly of our plants,” Soriano said.

Flowers gave color to the city’s darkest days, and have become an integral part of Baguio’s identity. What started as a recovery effort for the city’s tourism industry is now a consistent driver of its economy. 

But Soriano hopes that future Panagbenga festivals will be an opportunity for the community to collaborate in promoting environmental and climate change awareness.

“If we don’t take care of our flowers—the very symbol of the Panagbenga Festival—then I don’t think there’s anything worthy of celebration,” Soriano said.

 

This story was supported by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines