Bicol adopts pili as flagship crop

April 14, 2009 12:08 am 

By Danny O. Calleja

PILI, Camarines Sur, April 13 – Bicol is adopting Pili (Canarium ovatum Engl.), the “majestic tree” which may yet emerge as another “tree of life” next to coconut, as its flagship crop.

The prime agricultural region is noted for its coconut, abaca, rootcrops, vast fishing grounds and other opportunities that could uplift the standard of living of of Bicolanos. And yet, it is the country's second poorest among 16 regions.

Bicolanos expect to reverse the region’s present economic standing by developing pili into a major industry.

Thus, various government agencies, led by the Department of Agriculture, the local government and non-government organizations are now undertaking concerted efforts to hasten the development of the pili industry in the region.

They realize that pili has great potentials as a major dollar earner and major source of income for farmers, agricultural workers and land owners, especially that Bicol is its biggest producer in the country.

The majestic tree also offers profitable business opportunities for food and pharmaceutical product manufacturers, traders and exporters.

Bicolanos also pin hope that pili could become an export winner soon as they welcomes the crop's elevation to number 8th in the sub-network of Philippine fruit RDE Agenda.

The United States alone imports millions of kilos of shelled walnuts and almonds. With pili being acclaimed superior, if not better than those nuts, Bicol aims to produce high quality pili products to replace a significant portion in US imports of walnuts and almonds.

Agriculture regional executive director for Bicol Jose Dayao expressed this optimism to the PNA, adding that pili is also a potential substitute for macadamia and cashew that presently enjoy great demand from Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

According to the Plant Industry Digest published in 1970, the Philippines had been exporting pili nuts to Hawaii, Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan, and China since the pre-war years.

Historical accounts on this crop attest that the Philippines is the only country which produces and processes pili in commercial quantity such that it monopolizes the foreign market, says Dayao.

Considering that pili is one commodity which the Philippines can export with competitive advantage, its full commercialization in Bicol is now being worked out by way of strengthening research on post harvest handling, processing and packaging to come up to international standards.

Close networking with various stakeholders to strengthen resource base is also being enhanced while efficient marketing system is yet to be developed.

“We also need some sorts of lobbying for legislative backing, if necessary, for the industry to receive adequate fund support and protect it from exploitation,” Dayao said.

Under the DA's Annual Investment Program for 2010, the Pilinut Regional Development Program needs P56.7 million budget for, among other activities, the commercialization of pili through the development of new agribusiness land where 24,000 pili trees would be grown in the next three years.

Pili used to be one of the seven major fruits of the country. However, production area is generally sporadic and semi-forestal with existing pili trees, which are natural borne such that land owners take them for granted and cut them indiscriminately to give way to others like coconuts and various annual crops.

The survey jointly conducted by DA and LGUs in 2006 accounted about 221,250 nut-bearing pili trees within a 7,046.5-hectare area sporadically distributed across the region, most of them in Sorsogon with 88,272 trees and Albay, 80,809 trees. Camarines Sur had 31,534; Camarines Norte, 10,436 and Catanduanes, 10,201.

Pili nut production rose to 5,2443 MT 2006, or over 40 percent from 2,546 MT in 2001.

The DA expect the number pili trees to increase three folds due to the implementation of the pili development project, where no less than 608,879 seedlings were distributed for the establishment of pili orchards, rehabilitation of watershed areas and for reforestation since 2000, Dayao said.

Areas planted for pili rose about 29.3 percent to 7,046.5 hectares in July 2006 from 5,449 hectares in July 2000.

The agriculture department attributed the increase to the establishment of 12 nurseries, nine foundation scion groves with about 2,000 mother trees and germplasm bank across the region by the DA for quality planting materials production.

The Pili Research and Training Center, based in Guinobatan, Albay, also boosted it after developing an improved cleft grafting technique that is now being adopted by plant propagators in the region.

Dayao said that with this breakthrough, the DA was able to clone elite pili cultivars from the wild.

The Majestic Tree

Described as "majestic tree", pili is an ideal tree for agroforestry, for lining avenues, border or lawn tree, parks, subdivisions and golf courses. It is an evergreen tree with evenly spreading leaves, making it an excellent shade tree and windbreaker as it does not shed its leaves making its undergrowth clean and shady year round.

It is a promising crop of Bicol which has a great potential for development as a major export crop with a wide adaptation to varying agro-climatic conditions. It can be grown alone or inter cropped with other crops.

Pili tree is indigenous to the Philippines especially in Bicol and it thrives satisfactorily in marginal soil conditions, harsh tropical climate and low as well as high elevation lands.

It also fits well as a material for the agro-eco-tourism program of the government because its spreading crown provides shelter to wildlife and serves as wind breakers during typhoons.

It is a good material for rehabilitating watershed areas and prevents soil erosion because of its deep penetrating root system, sturdy stems and vigorous crown.

It is resistant to most pest and typhoons and lives long. In the latest search for the oldest productive female pili tree, sponsored by the DA in the region, the winner was claimed to have passed four generations or about 200 years surviving thousands of strong typhoons that hit the area within the period, Dayao said.

At that age, the tree is still very prolific with an average yield of about 24,000 fresh fruits per year, he said.

Tree of life

Like the coconut, pili is a tree of life, with all its parts being useful. The resin (elemi), which is extracted from the bark, is a known export product of the country for many years.

It has both pharmaceutical and industrial uses being ingredient in the manufacture of plasters, ointments, paints, varnish, sealants, lacquers, asphalt, water and fire proofing, linoleum, plastics and printing inks.

DA records shows that for many years, the Philippines had been exporting resin or Brea (Manila elimi) to the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Cuba, China, Hongkong and Japan.

The kernel, when roasted and ground is used as ingredients for ice cream, salads, puddings, toppings for cakes, bread, pastries, confectioneries and other delicacies like marzipan, fruit-cereal bar and fruit and nut mixed chocolate.

Rich in micronutrients such as magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, zinc, copper, iron, sodium, thiamine and niacin, it can be eaten raw or processed as roasted, fixated or sugar-coated and is served in the same way as cashew or almond, or peanuts.

Oil from both kernel and pulp is considered equal if not better to olive oil in quality and is suitable for culinary uses.

The pulp also produces pickle, vegetable dishes and edible oil. It also serves as nutritious feeds for cattle and swine.

The shell is useful as crafts, charcoal, firewood and combining medium for growing orchids and anthuriums.

Aside from being a producer of Manila elemi, the trunk with its wood is very ideal for the manufacture of high quality furniture, wood panels, carved doors and other wooden products. Being resin-rich wood, it makes an excellent firewood while the tree sap is an abundant source of natural resins, essential oils, and possibly, insect repellent.

The leaves are also useful for salad and relishes.

As a commercial commodity, pili nut has other favorable attributes not possessed by other Philippine fruits. It is not perishable and the fruit can be marketed fresh, as shelled nuts, dried kernel or processed into various delicacies.

It does not require costly storage treatment and if properly dried, it can be stored for one year under ordinary room condition thus giving enough time to speculate for better prices.

Bicol pili plays a significant role in the economy as it provides additional income to some 13,435 farmers who own at least 10 trees and farm laborers hired as harvesters, Dayao said.

The processing sector generates employment to scores of people such as the traders, processors, assemblers, factory workers, store keepers and others offering related miscellaneous services. At present there are about 256 entrepreneurs in the region involved in the pili industry. (PNA) RMA/LQ/DOC/0810

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