Executive Director's Corner

Forgotten but promising fruits


Posted on April 25, 2016 08:59:00 PM

Forgotten but promising fruits

M.A.P. Insights
Rolando T. Dy

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The Philippines is well-known for dried mango, banana chips, and canned pineapples, but it is not there yet for other dried fruits.

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A recent Jakarta visit brought me to a local convenience chain. I was enticed to buy well-packaged dried jackfruit, dried sweet potato, and dried snake fruit. The store was also stocked with Oishi durian and ube pillows. Oishi has two plants in Indonesia.

In January, I visited Taipei.

In one of the Aeon convenience stores were the famous Taiwan pineapple biscuits alongside the famous Philippine dried mango brand again. In the same month in Ho Chi Minh City, many brands of dried jackfruit were on display in one of the stores near the Ben Thanh market. Their quality has improved over the years. On the sidewalks, vendors hawk yellow- and red-colored fresh jackfruits along with my favorite, durian.

Philippine banana, pineapple, and mango are exported in fresh and processed forms. The country is no. 2 in the world in banana export, no. 1 in banana chips, no. 2 in fresh and canned pineapples, and leading in dried mango.

But shall we sit on our laurels while the other competitor-countries are speeding past us?

The country has neglected other fruits with market potentials — avocado, carambola (balimbing), dragon fruit, guyabano, jackfruit, marang, to name some. Most are produced on backyard scale and thus, have limited and declining supply. Processing plants need large and steady raw material supply.

Avocado is prized for its nutrient value. It has become a popular food among health-conscious individuals. It is often referred to as a superfood given its health properties. The avocado-flavored ice cream with carabao milk is one of my family’s favorites. Production declined to 20,000 tons in 2014 from 28,000 tons in 2005.

Carambola (balimbing or starfruit) is another good fruit. Malaysia is a major exporter. Studies show that carambola is rich in polyphenols known for health-benefiting properties. Philippine production fell to about 606 tons in 2014 from 4,100 tons in 2005.

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) has developed new carambola clones for the global market.

There is a Cagayan de Oro cottage industry processor that sells dried carambola prune. Great taste but small volume.

Dragon fruit is a new addition. It is a vining cactus, and has pink, red and yellow varieties. It is grown in Ilocos Norte, Cavite, and several other places. Vietnam is the world’s leading exporter. In the first five months of 2015, it exported 900,000 tons of the fruit, mainly to China. Vietnam is already producing dragon fruit chips and ice cream. Meanwhile, Philippine production reached 672 tons in 2014 from 90 tons in 2008.

Guyabano (soursop) is a multi-use fruit. It is a good table fruit. In Southeast Asia, it is used for fruit juice. It has many health benefits. In Davao, a cottage processor, Safepac Corp. sells Philippine Tropical brand dried guyabano at Davao Pasalubong Center for P25 for a 25-gram pack. Local supply decreased to 7,100 tons in 2014 from 7,500 tons in 2005.

A Korean store in Ortigas Center sells dried, shredded guyabano leaves for P700 per 250 grams. It is used as a medicinal tea. A friend from Harvest Agribusiness swears great health benefits from fresh guyabano.

Jackfruit has many uses. The ripe fruit is juiced and bottled, dried or vacuum-packed. It is also pureed for ice cream. The unripe fruit is used as a dish in the Visayas as salad or mixed with chicken or pork.

Dried jackfruit is a big business in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the Philippines, Cebu-based processor Profood International and dried mango firms make dried jackfruit, but they cannot get steady supply. Safepac sells dried and vacuum-fried jackfruit. Raw material is a major constraint. SC Global in Leyte processes jackfruit but supply is a constraint. Production contracted to 44,600 tons in 2014 from about 52,600 tons in 2005.

Marang is closely related to the jackfruit and breadfruit. It is mainly grown in Mindanao. It is a delicious fruit but does not keep well because of short life. Safepac sells dried marang at Davao Pasalubong Center for P25 a pack. Production was stagnant at 13,500 tons in 2014 from 13,800 tons in 2005.

It is difficult to entice investors to grow these fruits. There is little, if any, research and development literature such as on planting materials, gestation and yield curve, as well as on value-adding/processing.

These fruits have good growing and job creation potentials. But they have been ignored over the years as the focus has always been on the big crops such as rice, coconut, corn, sugarcane and banana. Even in that, we are doing poorly in rural poverty reduction.

What must be done? Can we learn from the Malaysian model?

From a backyard crop, carambola is now one of Malaysia’s leading fruit exports. Its commercial growing started in the 1970s. By 1988, exports to Hong Kong and Singapore reached 13,000 tons. Today, Malaysia dominates the EU market. Total world exports are about $10 million. Small, but this can be duplicated for other fruits.

Realizing the potential of carambola and tropical fruits, the Malaysian government supported the following research programs through MARDI: (a) breeding for better clones, (b) mineral nutrition, (c) fruit fly management, (d) farm system, and (e) post-harvest handling. The Malaysian Department of Agriculture has registered some 20 carambola clones.

Perhaps, concerned Philippine government agencies can follow the Malaysian lead so that our other fruits will have a better fighting chance in the market.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the M.A.P.)

Rolando T. Dy is the Vice-Chair of the M.A.P. AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific.

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