Dragon fruit industry revival set



The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte (PGIN), in collaboration with the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), Department of Agriculture – Ilocos Norte Research and Experiment Center (INREC), the Saniata Growers Association (SGA) and concerned local government units (LGUs) are stepping up moves to revive the ailing dragon fruit industry in Ilocos Norte. 


These agencies plan to rehabilitate the dragon cactus in the province, increase the fruit quality, sustain the quality of dragon cactus planting materials, expand the area planted with dragon cactus, strengthen the marketing aspect of the industry, and strengthen linkages among farmers, LGUs, NGAs, NGOs and traders.


As part of the rehabilitation program, interested dragon fruit growers will be provided with farm inputs such as dragon cactus cuttings, organic, inorganic and foliar fertilizers. The PGIN will provide the expenses of farm inputs, while the farmers will take care on the labor and maintenance of the plants. 


Meanwhile, MMSU and DA-INREC will do the research component to provide solutions to the problems encountered by the growers especially on the pests and diseases. The PGIN and the SGA will establish an entrepot center to solve marketing issues. Moreover, to strengthen the industry, livelihood programs will be given to the farmers who are into value-adding of the said high value cash crop. 


As a kick-off activity, dragon fruit growers in Burgos, Ilocos Norte already received their farm inputs. This was graced by Ms. Edita Dacuycuy, REFMAD owner; Mr. Edwin Cariòo, sustainable development center (SDC) Officer of PGIN; Ms. Lolita Raposas of OPAg; Burgos Municipal Agriculturist Cheryll Rugian; and MMSU Extension Director Dr. Aris Reynold V. Cajigal.


The rehabilitation of the industry is in time with the Plant-Plant-Plant program of the Department of Agriculture and one way of mitigating climate change in the province to ensure food security and sufficiency.


In retrospect

The dragon fruit industry in the province boomed in early 2000. It was on July 9-11, 2013 when the province celebrated the first Saniata Dragon Fruit Festival, an activity that was spearheaded by the Ilocos Agriculture and Aquatic Resources Research and Development Consortium (ILAARRDEC) and was held at the MMSU Teatro Ilocandia.


During the celebration, then ILAARRDEC Director Stanley C. Malab said the festivity is very unique because of its theme, Patibkeren ti Industria ti Saniata Para iti Nadur-as nga Agrikultura, which summed up the description of the province as becoming the dragon fruit capital of the Philippines because of its perfect climate suited for the crop, and with the hectarage being expanded every year.


Program of activities for the three-day festivity were the launching of the book on dragon fruit recipes and the six Saniata Dragon cactus varieties dubbed as Saniata 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. These varieties have local names as Imee, Imelda, Miriam, Edit, Mimi and Elena, respectively. 


Some of the highlights of the celebration were demonstration activities on how to cook dragon fruit recipes such as yema saniata, pastillas, empanaditas, saniata flan, toasted saniata cake, and saniata balls. There was also a dragon fruit eating contest, and essay and photo essay writing contests.


Dragon fruit was now considered one of the favorite fruits of many Ilocanos because of its known therapeutic properties and many were involved in the production of this medicinal fruit in the province where the climatic condition is very much adaptable.


With the support of former Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Romualdez-Marcos, more than 100 hectares in composite areas of the province have been planted with dragon cactus. These areas are considered barren, marginal or idle. Marginal areas are those which are non-productive and would require a lot of inputs, like fertilizers, to make them give a yield equal to that of productive areas not given inputs.


In support of the project, a package of technology (POT) has been produced in printed and video formats to guide growers in the production of dragon fruits. Demonstration plots in farmers’ field, elementary schools, and barangay organization have also been established. Training programs, cross visits, monitoring, and field consultations, school-on-the-air programs, product development, marketing, and exhibits have been conducted.


The MMSU dragon fruit production project

In 2014, the MMSU’s dragon fruit production project was proving itself a very lucrative agribusiness venture as shown by the figures obtained from the sales of the fruit.


From the 648 posts planted in three strategic sites in the main campus, the university was harvesting about 700 kilos of fresh fruits from January to July, which gave a little less than P70,000 gross. The plants were still at their peak production period until September. 


While other dragon cactus growers in the province harvested the fruits of their crop once a year within the July to September regular season, the university was harvesting the fruits twice because of the application of the off-season production technology for the crop. 


There were other factors that hampered the smooth production of quality fruits, such as fruit flies that destroy the emerging fruits. The pest buries its eggs in the fruit and the larva will soon eat its way out, thus, making the fruit unmarketable. 


However, MMSU research showed that this was easily solved through bagging. Since the Saniata variety of dragon cactus has become a very profitable agribusiness venture in the university during those years, the demand for the fruit starts ahead of the regular season, thus, the university applies the off-season production technology to meet the demand.


The off-season production technology was applied in November when the plants receive less amount of sunlight due to the effect of the incoming winter solstice – a situation when the earth is at its farthest axis from the sun. During this period, the dragon cactus cannot produce enough hormones to induce itself to flower. Thus, the technology involved the use of 6-watt Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs, and 26-watt compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) which were used to light the plants between 10:00 pm to 2:00 am.  


The demand for dragon fruit increased by more than two times higher in off-season months than in regular season. In Ilocos Norte alone, market demand started in early parts of January. In most cases during regular and off-season months, harvesting dragon fruits in the university was done by order due to limited supply. Usually, the harvest was done twice a week with a minimum of 80 kilos per harvest. 


The selling price per kilo depended on the season and the volume of harvest. From January to March, the fruit was sold at P150 to P180 per kilo, while it dipped to P75 to P80 per kilo from July to September. (Extension/StratCom)