Benguet has a lot more to offer than highland vegetable crops. Jomarie Mangeg believes that the local fruit tamarillo has a lot of potential for the local industry, and to help local farmers. She wants the tamarillo to gain popularity and become Benguet’s next specialty crop.
Mangeg is one of the 12 national winners of the Kabataang Agribiz Competitive Grant Assistance Program. The Kabataang Agribiz program is for youth who are interested in engaging in agri-fisheries enterprises. Through the start-up cash assistance of the program, she founded Frugies de Locale Food Processing and Preserving. Frugies de Locale manufacture dehydrated and powdered tamarillo fruits and some vegetables from the local producers of Benguet.
Mangeg grew up in a community of farmers in Buguias, Benguet, where tamarillo is one of the crops produced. She was once disheartened when she found out that the tamarillo her aunt planted and harvested was only bought for P10 per kilo.
The issue of overproduction and the low market price of vegetables is a recurring issue in Benguet. Because of this, she came up with the idea that fruits and vegetables should be processed and preserved to avoid spoilage. Food preservation may help decrease the number of wasted fruits and vegetables.
The local fruit, Tamarillo
Tamarillo (Solanum betaceum) or Spanish tomato is a small tree that grows in the highlands of the Cordillera region. It is also called dolsi by locals. Tamarillo trees are usually planted in backyards for home consumption.
Tamarillo is a tree that stands up to 13 feet in height. It bears an oval-shaped fruit that is green when unripe and violet when ripe. Tamarillo fruits can be harvested when half-ripe and can be used as a souring ingredient in cooking. When fully ripe, it can be eaten as a regular fruit and has a sweet-sour and pungent taste.
Tamarillo is propagated through seeds, just like how tomatoes are grown. It takes a year and a half before it bears fruit and takes its first harvest. It requires very little labor to maintain but is susceptible to wind damage caused by strong winds and typhoons.
Tamarillo is an ever-bearing tree, but the peak of its fruiting season is from June to August. According to Mangeg, a single tree can produce at least 100 kilograms in a year, given that the tree is taken care of properly and appropriately watered. A tree can bear fruit for 3 to 5 years before it declines in productivity. This can be prolonged with the application of molasses-based foliar and organic fertilizers.
Fruit processing and preservation
Jam, dehydrated candy, and powder are the by-products Mangeg makes from the tamarillo fruit.
To make a dehydrated tamarillo candy, Fresh ripe tamarillo fruits are washed, peeled, and cut into desirable sizes. It is soaked in a brine solution before being placed inside the dehydrating machine.
Traditionally, to dehydrate the fruit, it is left under the sun to dry. But now, dehydrating machines are used to minimize food contamination and maintain even low moisture content.
Dehydration removes water content, which allows the fruits to be stored for an extended period of time. It is a practical way o store food because it does not need refrigeration.
Some dehydrated tamarillo fruits are stored in powder form for making tamarillo beverages. It is also used as flour in making bread and pastries.
Dehydrated tamarillo candies and jams are usually bought as souvenirs or pasalubong, though the production of these products is still limited at the moment. Frugies de Locale products can usually be found in pop-up bazaars hosted by the local government of Benguet.
Other dehydrated products
Aside from tamarillo, Mangeg also processes vegetables that are usually oversupplied. Prices of potato, carrots, and parsley often fluctuate when there is too much supply in the market. The price becomes too low.
“Vegetables are thrown away when there is an oversupply. The efforts of our farmers should not be wasted. Growing up in a community of farmers, I know how hard it is to work on a farm,” she said.
To prevent the vegetables from becoming waste, carrots and parsley are chopped into small strips and dehydrated. These are sold as ingredients in making pancit. Potatoes are turned into powder and sold as potato flour.
Additional processing of vegetables and converting them into a different product can command higher prices. Mangeg believes this will minimize food loss and create an additional outlet for the vegetable supply.
Reviving the local fruit industry
“Tamarillo has been a part of my childhood. I remember being scolded by my neighbors whenever we picked the fruits in their backyard. But it is now losing its popularity among the new generations of youth,” Mangeg stated. “I want tamarillo to be recognized as a specialty crop in Benguet like Baguio [has] strawberries and ube,” she added.
Mangeg hopes tamarillo will become the next specialty product of Benguet. To make it happen, they have already started propagating tamarillo trees around their localities. She believes that reviving the local fruit industry will help create more jobs for the people of Benguet.
Photo courtesy by Jomarie Mangeg