Presenting Negros Occidental through flavors, crafts, and stories as sweet as muscovado sugar

Published September 19, 2022, 9:42 AM

by John Legaspi

Negros Trade Fair returns to Manila!

The sugar capital—that is how many know Negros Occidental, a humble province located in the western part of the Visayas region. What others may not know is that it also initiated one of the longest-running trade fairs in the country, the Negros Trade Fair (NTF).

In 1985, Manila-based Negrense entrepreneurs created the fair in a Makati car park due to the news of poverty among the sugar farm workers. Since then, the NTF, organized by the Association of Negros Producers (ANP), has been one of the most sought-after annual fairs in the capital, bringing the province’s good food and handmade crafts, all while helping seasoned and budding entrepreneurs reach a wider audience. 

That tradition continues today. While it was put on hold in 2020 during the pandemic and had a digital exodus in 2021, this year, the fair returns to Manila as it celebrates its 36th year with the theme “Hidlaw.”

A Hiligaynon term meaning “longing” or “yearning,” hidlaw encapsulates what Filipinos are feeling in our almost post-pandemic world. According to NTF Chairman Michael Claparols, the reason behind the theme is that Manila misses the fair, not only the Negrenses in the capital but also its city dwellers. We may have experienced quite a hidlaw since the fair’s absence, but Claparols and ANP’s producers and exhibitors promise that the comeback of the NTF is worth the wait. 

Michael Claparols (center | Photo from Negros Occidental Tourism Division)

“After two years of staying at home, our customers have said they’ve missed the fun, festivities, and flavors of Negros. Nothing beats the experience of savoring Negrense flavors and admiring the craftsmanship first-hand,” Claparols says. “The exhibitors are excited to bring their creations, designs, and products back and launch new items—a testament to the resilience of the Negrense spirit. This is also why we decided that this year’s theme would be hidlaw.”

Prior to its return to the capital, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle gets to experience a preview of what’s to come at this year’s NTF in Bacolod City. What we discovered are beyond just warm hospitality, delicious dishes, and unique handicrafts, but also stories of passion that make Negrense artisans and entrepreneurs truly inspirational. 

Negrense spirit

According to Claparols, when he thinks of the NTF, four things come to his mind. First is resilience. It takes a lot to keep a business thriving, and many of ANP’s group entrepreneurs have gone through great challenges even before COVID-19 hit the Philippines. Bacolod-based businesswoman Precy Perez has a strong ceramic business during the late ‘90s not until China became the dominant player in the industry.  But with her tenacious spirit, she established in 2013 a new brand, Yssa’s Handicrafts Manufacturing, which turns used medical and wine bottles into serving dishes, and her best-seller, Angel Chime.

Another thing Claparols points out is that NTF is all about caring.  During the time when there are issues of labor unrest, there are a few families who took care of those workers. The NTF also offers an avenue for social enterprises. One great example of this is municipal accountant Ofelia Tupas, who helps people from Sitio Madaja and Sitio Maatop gain livelihood through weaving baskets and crochet bags. Another is Alter Trade Philippines’ partnership with over 400 sugar cane farmers in making a variety of muscovado sugar products.

Negrense entrepreneur Shiena Mae Ana Pobleto

The NTF also is also teeming with stories of change and opportunity. One of its success stories is Shiena Mae Ana Pobleto of Shiena’s Homemade Products. Once a sidewalk peanut vendor during her elementary days, Shiena is now a proud owner of an FDA-approved brand, selling cashew, native pili nuts, and truly delectable peanut butter.

Old and new

A true mecca of Negros Occidental’s bests, the NTF is also set to highlight at this year’s showcase many of the province’s seasoned and new brands. Giving a taste of the province’s beloved eats is Silay City’s El Ideal Bakery, offering piyaya, buko pie, lumpiang ubod, and its signature guapple pie. Sir and Maam restaurant is set to serve Negrense comfort food such as morcon, kadios, and lechon paksiw. Bringing handmade decors and wearable art made of used Nespresso capsules and eggshells, among others, is NVC Foundation. While introducing Negros’ silk industry is Negros Silk Producers.

Ereneta – Manaloto Chorizo de Bacolod’s products

New things to look out for at the fair are Lakat Sustainables’ pineapple cotton fiber-made sneakers, Plantsville Health’s food and lifestyle products made of local cinnamon, and Ereneta – Manaloto Chorizo de Bacolod’s chorizo piyaya, among others.

Negros Occidental in Manila

The 36th NTF will take place from Sept. 20 to 25 at a larger venue, which is Glorietta 4 Activity Center in Makati City. Over 60 sellers from various sectors such as natural and organic food, garments, fashion accessories, furniture, décor, houseware, agriculture, and tourism represent the industries that provide for and sustain the people of Negros.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit Negros through the participation of several local government units. 

To know more about its events and exhibitors visit @negrostradefair_36th on Instagram and