Dragon fruit industry gains ground

September 22, 2015 7:57 am 

By Leilani G. Adriano

BURGOS,Ilocos Norte, Sept. 21 (PNA Features) –From single cuttings of the less known dragon fruit cactus plant Edita Dacuycuy-Aguinaldo, 69, planted 10 years ago in her backyard, who would think that this vine-like cactus species that bears pear-shaped fruits that have a bright pink flesh or sweetish white would catch the attention of plant lovers, now bringing huge income to growers and food processors alike.

For a span of 10 years since the Dacuycuy family of Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte started to propagate dragon fruit cactus plant in their backyard, this has now grown into a 15-hectare and still expanding dragon fruit plantation and resort in the farming village of Paayas, Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

The family-owned enterprise, now popularly known as the REFMAD (Rare Eagle Forest Marine and Agricultural Development) Farms in Burgos town is now being frequented by hundreds of tourists everyday for its amenities and value-added products.

The dragon fruit industry in the Philippines looks promising based on the inspiring stories of plantation growers, this writer covered from various cities and provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao for a week.

From a single post of dragon fruit, Dacuycuy estimates that this can yield an income of Php 1,000 year. This means that for every hectare of land planted with at least 1,000 posts of dragon fruit, the return of investment can run to as much as Php 1 million.

Dragon fruit has an estimated lifespan of 50 years.

In less than a year or barely six months from planting rooted materials, growers attest that dragon fruit cactus plant will start to bear fruits but the return of investment will start on the third year and onwards when the plants are already mature with an average harvest of one ton per harvest from April to November fruiting season.

This is aside from the numerous value-adding products REFMAD Farms has introduced to the market. As the first science and technology-based dragon fruit plantation in northern Philippines, Mrs. Dacuycuy, along with the help of research institutions here have experimented various ways, utilizing every part of the cactus plant such as its dried flowers as tea or cooked as lumpiang shanghai, laing or used as garnish in either fish or meat recipes like sinigang (sour soup), sweet meat and bulalo (boiled beef shank) or burger patties, its stem as main ingredient for making soap bar or liquid soap, its pulp and fruits for making dragon fruit ice cream, cookies, cakes, vinegar and wine among others.

Because she believes in the health benefits of dragon fruit inspired by her daughter Kaye with a celebral palsy, Dacuycuy makes sure that the fruit is grown organically in her farm.

In 2005, Dacuycuy was on the lookout for alternative medication that could cure Kaye’s frequent constipation, a common problem among cerebral palsy patients. A friend gave her some dragon fruit from Macau which, this mother found out, proved effective in inducing regular bowel movement.

Dacuycuy, a former manager of an insurance company and a psychology graduate of the University of the Philippines, found herself browsing the Internet to learn more about this exotic fruit. The dragon fruit, she found out, was also known as a cleansing fruit in South America.

She also learned that according to physicians and nutrition experts, the dragon fruit is rich in fiber that helps in the elimination of wastes, and that it contains high levels of vitamin C, calcium and phosphorous. Its other nutritional benefits include high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatism and urinary tract infection.

These findings led Dacuycuy to search for dragon fruit seedlings. To her surprise, she discovered that some of her friends have dragon fruit planted in their garden. However, they didn’t realize its fruit was edible, since they had mistakenly thought it was just an ordinary cactus plant.

According to Dacuycuy, some in the neighborhood consider it as ornamental, and they plant it because they love its flowers.

But when she discovered that dragon fruit is popular in South America and is also being cultivated in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and in some parts of the Philippines, Dacuycuy sent her daughter Mildred to Thailand to learn how to care for the plant, and later consulted the municipal agriculture in her municipality including other government research agencies such as the Mariano Marcos State University, Ilocos Agriculture Resources Research and Development Consortium and the Department of Science and Technology on the proper management of her organic dragon fruit farm, the first in Region I in northern Philippines.

From a single variety, she has managed to grow at least five other varieties, with flesh of varied colors: dark pink or magenta, light pink, orange, white and yellow.

Inspired by the success of REFMAD Farms which gained the Dacuycuy’s matriarch numerous awards and titles not only as the ‘Dragon Fruit Queen of the Philippines’ but also as “Magsasaka Sientista (farmer scientist)”, a 2015 Golden Globe Awardee for Business Excellence, a presidential awardee as the most outstanding high-value commercial crop farmer in 2011 (Gawad Saka), outstanding lady entrepreneur in Go Negosyo and one of the world’s recognized female innovation leader during the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation-Women and Economy Summit in San Francisco, California, USA, other farm enthusiasts and potential investors all over the country and abroad started to contact her for business partnership and expansion.

"Just deliver the mission and commission will follow," said Mrs. Dacuycuy as she gladly share her passion with other plant hobbyists who may wish to venture in the dragon fruit industry.(PNA)

FPV/LGA

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