There is not much mainstream fanfare for passion fruits (Passiflora edulis) here in the Philippines. The yellow variety the country has is sour and there is not much to eat on the fruit except its seedy pulp. But once upon a time, a booming industry that centered on this fruit thrived in Taysan, Batangas.
Lilibeth “Beth” Danan, born and raised in this town, hopes to revitalize their local passion fruit industry. She hopes to achieve this through her company, Lilykoi Food Products Manufacturing, a processing center that produces and sells passion fruit juice.
Beth wanted a business because it was difficult to continue working abroad away from her family. For years, she was an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) and electrical engineer. Her OFW past is actually reflected in Lilykoi. Lilikoi is the Hawaiian word for passion fruit. Hawaii is where she used to work from 2005 to 2007. She then replaced “lili” with “lily” because her friends from Singapore, where she worked from 2010 to 2014, preferred to call her “Lily” instead of Beth.
She returned to the Philippines in 2014 after she got pregnant with her only child at the age of 38. Years later and in 2019, she learned that the Taysan municipal agriculture office (MAO) was looking to support people who wanted to run a business with passion fruits. She grabbed the opportunity because she saw the potential of the idea. But more importantly, she wanted the opportunity to help passion fruit farmers.
Taysan had a short-lived but memorable passion fruit industry. It reached its peak during the late 2000s but it was not sustained for long. Farmers struggled to make profit so most farmers stopped growing the fruit. A few backyard farmers remained which Beth is working with in order to revive their local industry.
“Nabuhay ang Lilykoi not because I want a business, nabuhay siya because of the farmers (I created Lilykoi with the farmers in mind),” Beth said. “Sabi nila, sayang naman pag nawala. Nakilala naman [ang passion fruit] kahit papaano. Tapos wala lang, nasa historya lang. (People will regret once passion fruits disappear. Taysan was already known for passion fruits for a while, but the industry just disappeared into history.)”
The rise and fall of Taysan’s passion fruit industry
Production of passion fruit in Taysan started in 2009 when the late Arsenia Lontok, former agricultural officer of Taysan, promoted the planting of the crop. During this time, the MAO facilitated the transportation of passion fruits to a private manufacturing company in Cavite. Santiago Perez, 69, used to be one of the farmers working with MAO along with nine other farmers. He recalled that farmers were able to harvest five to 10 sacks of passion fruits at the height of Taysan’s passion fruit industry.
But the MAO was not always able to dispatch the fruits immediately, according to Santiago. “Kulang kasi sa MAO ng tao (This is because the MAO lacks manpower),” he said. The fruits perished before they were delivered to the manufacturing company so a lot of the fruits were rejected. Since the passion fruit were also being sold at an incredibly low price of P6-8 per kilogram, farmers struggled to make profit.
Santiago wished that it could have been different. “Kung yun ay nabigyan nila ng pansin, ng panahon, siguro maraming nagtatanim pa (If they prioritized the program, more farmers would still be growing passion fruits),” he said. According to Beth and Santiago, there are now only four passion fruit farmers in Taysan, most of them backyard farmers.
Beth said that the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) also developed technologies to process passion fruit products. There used to be a local program where women and barangay health workers were trained how to produce passion fruit products like juice and jam.
But this was not enough to sustain the passion fruit industry. “Tinuruan sila paano gumawa, pero di sila tinuturuan paano gumawa ng pera (They were trained to process passion fruits, but not how to make money from it),” Beth said.
There are several obstacles before anybody can start a passion fruit business. Beth said that the supply of passion fruits is inconsistent because production slowed down during the off-season. During this period, a business owner would need to outsource their passion fruit supply but most people did not have vehicles to import them from other provinces. Whatever supply of passion fruits they had must also be put into storage, which again, most people did not have the equipment for.
Venturing into Lilykoi
Beth, with the help of her husband, was perhaps the most capable candidate who took interest in creating a passion fruit business.
She has been working with MAO to help Lilykoi succeed. The MAO helps local passion fruit farmers with seedlings, tools, and farming supplies while Beth buys the passion fruits, processes them into products, and markets them as well.
Lilykoi’s main product is passion fruit juice which they sell in puree and concentrate form. The former is just the juice of the fruit with nothing added while the latter has sugar in it. They also sell the pulp which can be used as a jam or as a garnish for desserts.
Beth wants to develop more products such as dried passion fruit which is made from the flesh of the fruit. By doing so, she can fully make use of the entire passion fruit, thus reducing her waste products.
She mostly sells to distributors but is hoping to get more clients who manage restaurants, cafes, and hotels.
“Di ko masasabing we really gained last year kasi yung market nag-iistart pa lang (I can’t really say that we made profit in our first year),” Beth said. “Etong second year pa lang naming na-pepenetate [yung market]. I have appointments with various clients. May mga kumukuhang cafés, restaurants. (It is only this year that we are able to penetrate the market. Now I have appointments with cafe and restaurant owners.)”
Beth gets her passion fruits from four farmers in Taysan, Batangas. Her main supplier is her uncle, Apolinario Sulit, 71, who got into farming after retiring. Beth wanted to grow her own passion fruits, but her uncle insisted that he do it for her because he wanted something to do as a new hobby.
Santiago is also one of Beth’s suppliers. Santiago continued to grow passion fruit in his backyard even though the peak of the industry had long passed.
“Yung iba nalugi sila, di na nagtuloy-tuloy. Pero ako, sabi ko, may mga tao makakatuklas paano siya magagamit (Other farmers did not profit so they stopped growing passion fruit. For me, I continue farming because I felt that people one day will figure out how to make use of passion fruits),” Santiago said.
“Kaya lumakas ang aking loob kasi dahil nayari ang processing center ni Beth (I was motivated to continue farming when Beth created her processing facility),” he added.
The long road ahead
But before Beth and farmers like Apolinario and Santiago can succeed, a lot of things need to happen. Farmers have been hoping that the MAO creates standard guidelines for growing passion fruits. Asked for comment about this concern, Engnr Clarisse Comia, current agricultural officer of Taysan, said they are continuously researching to provide farmers more information.
Beth also hopes that more local residents get to know about passion fruits.
“Eto nga funny diyan e. Pinopromote naming siya na product ni Taysan pero some of the people mismo from Taysan, di nila alam ang lasa (Here’s what’s funny. We are promoting the passion fruit as a product of Taysan, but some of the people here don’t even know what it tastes like),” Beth said.
Oddly enough, this disconnect is reflected in the local government. Passion fruit has been recognized on the internet as Taysan’s one town, one product. Beth however said that she has never found any certification for this from the local government nor from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Ahead of Beth and other passion fruit farmers are challenges that they are working to overcome day by day. Working to revitalize a dead industry requires passion, perseverance, and sacrifice.
Asked what passion fruits are in Tagalog, Santiago quipped: “sakripisyo (sacrifice).” He said this as they don’t really know any Tagalog equivalent for passion fruit.
It is said that Catholic missionaries in Brazil named the plant as passion fruit because its flower resembled the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Santiago likened the Passion of Jesus Christ to the growing of passion fruits.
“Kung ano ang pasyon ni Jesus Christ, yan rin ang pagtatanim [ng passion fruit] (What Jesus Christ had to go through in his Passion is the same to what we have to go through when we’re growing passion fruits),” he said. “Sa umpisa naman e pasyon ang aabutin mo diyan… Parang mag-papasyon ka bago kumita. (You will have to sacrifice a lot when you’re starting. It’s like you have to go through the Passion of Jesus Christ just to make profit.)”
For inquiries, contact the Facebook page of Lilykoi Food Products Manufacturing.
Photos by Jerome Sagcal