By Zac B. Sarian

During our tour of leading farms producing high-value fruits in Davao City early
last September, we were able to gather valuable insights on the opportunities and
challenges confronting the industry. We particularly met producers of durian, pomelo,
cacao, longkong lanzones, mangosteen, and marang.

Durian prospects

There are bright prospects in durian production but there are also serious challenges that have to be addressed. Larry Miculob who owns a 16-hectare orchard of mainly durian trees revealed that there is a big and growing market abroad. China, he said, is a
huge and hungry market for fresh durian fruit.

Duyaya durian is very fleshy with sweet and creamy taste.
It is one of the varieties recommended for planting for the
export market.

At present, Thailand and Malaysia are the two major suppliers of durian to China. One thing going great for the Philippines is that the peak durian season here is when the season in Thailand and Malaysia is already over. The peak period in the two neighbor countries is from June to August while that in the Philippines is from August to October. As such, the durian from the Philippines can fill the void when there is no more supply from Thailand and Malaysia.

Larry also observes a big potential market in the Philippines. As of now, he estimates that as much as 70 percent of Filipinos still don’t eat durian. However, more and more are learning to like eating the exotic fruit, especially in Luzon.

To take advantage of the expanding market, production of high quality fruits in commercial volume is a must. The problem today, according to Larry, is that most durian farms are small. As such, the fruits available are variable. To command a high price, the fruits should be uniform in eating quality, size, and maturity. Investors should be encouraged to establish plantations growing recommended varieties in big volume. The Puyat variety is recommended for large scale planting because it is high-yielding and it has good eating quality. Another superior variety is Duyaya developed by the late Severino Belviz.

To promote production of export quality durian, Miculob urges the government to train farmers on the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in durian. The GAP should include seedling production, proper plantation establishment, fertilization, pest and disease prevention and control, irrigation, pruning, identification of the right maturity of fruits, harvesting techniques, postharvest handling, and others. The government should put up so-called Shared Service Facilities (SSF) that will help small-scale farmers improve the marketability of their harvests. Continuous research should be undertaken to develop value-added durian products.

Miculob has other ideas to expand production areas. He says ancestral lands of Indigenous People (IP) could be harnessed for durian production. Equitable schemes could be crafted to benefit the IPs. Another idea is to use durian as a reforestation species. Ungrafted seedlings could be mass produced for planting between timber species.

Challenges 

One problem that has to be addressed is the low regard by foreign buyers of durian from the Philippines. He said that Chinese importers are paying a lower price for Philippine durian than those from Thailand and Malaysia. This was made worse when an unscrupulous trader from Davao shipped inferior fruits that he bought cheap. An association of growers should endeavor to export only good quality durian that they will only sell at a most reasonable price.

Another problem that is confronting durian farmers is the high cost of chemical inputs. Fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides are said to be 30 to 40 percent more expensive in the Philippines than in Malaysia.

Longkong’s prospects

Fruits of longkong lanzones are now more available in the market in Davao than the native variety. It means the lanzones from Thailand is well adapted to Philippine conditions. And that’s good because longkong commands almost double the price of the ordinary variety.

Orlando Chio of Tau Hai Farm posing with his heavily fruiting longkong tree.

Given the proper care, like the longkong trees of Orlando Chio of Tau Hai Farm in Calinan, longkong can yield a lot of fruits that are bigger and better looking than most of the fruits in the market. The trouble with many in the market is that they look dirty due to sooty mold which makes portions of the skin smudged with black.

The Tau Hai Farm is more than 10 hectares where durian, mangosteen, and marang are also grown besides longkong. Chio has a business in downtown Davao City but he spends more time in his farm, that’s why his fruit trees are healthy and productive. He really loves farming.

This gives us an idea. Instead of just motivating young people to go into agribusiness, we should also encourage those who are forty or fifty something to engage in farming as an honest-to-goodness business. That makes sense because if the fellow is really interested in farming, he will most likely succeed because he would usually have the capital to start with. If he needs to borrow money, he will most likely have the collateral or the track record to back him up. He probably would be familiar with the right people who can help him in sourcing improved technology, various production inputs, market linkages, and the like.

Like in durian, GAP should be developed for longkong. Improved techniques of harvesting and postharvest handling should be disseminated to growers.

Expensive inputs for pomelo 

We had a forum in the morning of September 7 at Jack’s Ridge Resort owned by Miloy Mercado of Golden Pomelo fame. The meeting was attended by active stakeholders in the fruit industry. One of them is Mr. Mercado, who is easily the biggest pomelo producer not only in Mindanao, but also in the country. When we asked him about the status of the pomelo industry, he declared it is under ICU.

We thought he was kidding because the day before, we visited one of his farms where harvesting was going on. We witnessed the beautiful fruits that were being labeled by women workers. Mercado’s farm operations manager told us that in that 24-hectare farm, they are averaging 22 tons of fruit per hectare.

The big problem, according to Mercado, is that chemical inputs have become very expensive. Like Miculob, he observed that fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and weedkillers are much more expensive in the Philippines than in Malaysia. The prices of inputs are high because they are controlled by multinational companies, according to him.

As a strategy to become more competitive, Mercado said he phased out about 30% of his 200 hectares found in different locations. The not so productive farms had to go. He has just to maximize production in the productive farms. Well, in farming, one has to be smart in cutting production cost.

Cacao sector

Several young agripreneurs involved in cacao production, processing and marketing were at the forum at Jack’s Ridge. They provided valuable insights on the challenges and opportunities in the local cacao industry. Luis Cena of Filipinas Oro de Cacao served as spokesperson of the group. He pointed out that Philippines is not listed among the world’s cacao producing countries because of our low national production. One comforting situation is that our fermented cacao beans make the highest quality chocolates.

Proof is the several first prizes garnered by five chocolate products entered in a competition in Paris by Jose Saguban of Davao City, according to Cena. A total of 55 countries competed in the event. As of June 2019, chocolates from the Philippines have garnered a total of 28 awards.

BR 25 cacao, one of the recommended cacao varieties.

Unfortunately, only about six percent of cacao beans produced in the Philippines are fermented, Cena said. The rest, which are called bulk cacao, are unfermented. Cena stressed that the government should undertake the development of postharvest technologies, including fermentation. Fermented cacao commands a much higher price than unfermented ones. He said that unfermented tablea commands only P300 to P900 per kilo. On the other hand, tablea of fermented beans can fetch as much as P3,000 to P5,000 per kilo, according to Cena.

He noted, however, that a government agency has been promoting the use of a fermenting box made of stainless steel. That’s unfortunate because wood fermenting box produces better quality beans. There’s something in the wood that contributes to the quality of the fermented beans, Cena said.

Many cacao growers in the Philippines are small scale. To help them, maybe the government should put up so-called SSF not only for fermentation, but also for other processes like grinding, roasting, packaging, and others.

Cena also cited the need to plant more and more cacao to meet the requirements of local and foreign markets. He said that local consumption requires 40,000 metric tons while local production of beans amounts to only 13,000 to 15,000 metric tons annually. Foreign demand is huge. Cena said that Russia needs five tons of bulk (unfermented) beans every week while Japan wants 10 tons a month. The US, on the other hand, needs 40 tons of tablea without sugar a month.

Mangosteen

The Queen of Philippine Fruits is an important crop in Mindanao. While the biggest mangosteen plantation is owned by Dr. Alfredo Villarico of Kidapawan, Cotabato, there are smaller plantings in Davao. One farm owner that we met at the forum was Primitivo Villegas. About 10 hectares of the 50 hectares that he owns are planted to mangosteen.

There are advantages in growing mangosteen. For one, it is a very hardy fruit crop that is not usually attacked by pests and diseases. It has a long productive life and the fruit is well liked by consumers. But there are also problems that confront the growers like Villegas. He said that if you are ahead in harvesting your mangosteen, you can make a good income. Farmgate price could range from P100 to P200 per kilo. The trouble begins when the so-called backyard mangosteen planters start selling their harvest in stalls along the roadside at as low as P40 per kilo.

Another problem is the high cost of shipping the fruit by air to Manila. It is not only expensive, it is not also a priority if air freight space is limited. The priority, according to another grower, is tuna, which is being exported regularly throughout the year.

Marang

No doubt marang is a very delicious fruit when it is harvested at the right maturity. The trouble is that it has a very short shelf life. That is why the fruits that are sent to Manila are harvested prematurely. The result is very poor eating quality. Yet the fruits are sold at a high price.

Maybe the best thing to do to supply the Manila market is to plant marang on a commercial scale in the provinces surrounding the city like Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, and Rizal. We remember many years back, Eddie Odsigue of Teresa, Rizal produced good-quality marang fruits harvested from trees interplanted with jackfruit, mango, and other trees.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2019 issue.