Dragon fruit growing business gains ground
BURGOS, Ilocos Norte—From single cuttings of a dragon fruit plant that Edita Dacuycuy-Aguinaldo planted 10 years ago in her backyard, no one would think that this vine-like cactus species that bears odd-looking, pear-shaped fruits would catch the attention of plant lovers.
The propagation of dragon fruit that the Dacuycuy family started at its 13-hectare Refmad (Rare Eagle Forest Marine and Agricultural Development) Farms in Barangay Paayas here, has started bringing huge income to growers and food processors alike.
Dragon fruit growing has also gone beyond Ilocos Norte, with plantations expanding in various areas in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
These plantations, led by Refmad Farms, have also attracted a steady stream of tourists and plant lovers, boosting the agriculture tourism potentials of these areas.
Refmad Farms has built a swimming pool, a fishpond and air-conditioned cabanas and open cottages where visitors may stay overnight to experience farm life, cook their own food and enjoy a picnic. They may also pick the fruits themselves during the harvest season.
Dacuycuy, 69, says dragon fruit growing has become a promising source of income.
From a single post of dragon fruit, she estimates an income of P1,000 a year. This means that for every hectare of land planted with at least 1,000 dragon fruit posts, a grower may earn as much as P1 million on the third year when the plants mature. This projection, she says, is based on an average harvest of a ton from April to November.
This projection, however, does not include income from other dragon fruit-based food and beauty products that Refmad Farms has introduced to the market. Among these are tea, ice cream, cookies, cake, vinegar, wine and soap.
Dacuycuy makes sure that Refmad Farms’ dragon fruit is grown organically because she believes in the health benefits of the fruit, through the experience of her daughter, Kaye, who has cerebral palsy.
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 dragon fruit from Macau which, she 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 surfing 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 doctors and nutrition experts attest to the dragon fruit’s health benefits.
These 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.
Dacuycuy says some consider it as ornamental and 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.
She later consulted the local agriculture office, including other government research agencies such as the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), Ilocos Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium (Ilarrdec), and the Department of Science and Technology on the proper management of her organic dragon fruit farm.
From a single variety, Dacuycuy has managed to grow at least five other varieties, with varying colors of flesh: dark pink or magenta, light pink, orange, white and yellow.
Inspired by the success of Refmad Farms, other farmers and potential investors started to reach out to Dacuycuy, offering business partnerships and expansion.
In Cebu, Sarah Balorio, 51, a self-employed accountant, and her husband, Nilo, a lawyer, now manage a four-hectare dragon fruit plantation in the village of Cotcoton in Dumanjug town.
“Our mango trees died and we planted dragon fruit with the assistance of Refmad Farms, which guided us all through out,” says Balorio.
She says she got Dacuycuy’s number in a flier distributed in a trade fair in Manila. Dacuycuy, she says, sent her daughter Mildred to Cebu to help them set up Loranisa’s Farm, named after their only daughter.
Located on top of a hill overlooking the sea, the Balorio couple hopes to develop the farm as an agro-tourism site, ideal for camping and pilgrimage.
Loranisa’s Farm has started supplying dragon fruit in the Cebu local market, with a number of loyal customers, mostly friends and acquaintances, who said the quality of their produce is better than the imported ones.
Felipe Uygongco, 72, a businessman from Iloilo City engaged in flour milling, shipping, hotel, shopping mall, restaurant and import and export trading, also started a one-ha. dragon fruit plantation on Guimaras Island.
Uygongco plans to expand, saying dragon fruit has become more profitable than Guimaras mangoes.
“Five years ago, while I was at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manila, I saw an advertisement and called Mrs. Dacuycuy. I ordered several cuttings and I also underwent a crash course on dragon fruit propagation at the Cavite State University,” says Uygongco.
When his initial 5,000 dragon fruit plants were hit by a disease, he sought the assistance of Refmad Farms to share its organic farming technology.
Uygongco says they decided to discard the white varieties he obtained from Cavite and Taiwan and started to propagate the varieties grown in the Ilocos.
“We pick fruits almost every week. I’m so happy and I’m looking for more property to expand business. The dragon fruit market is expanding fast because of its health benefits. It’s a good investment,” he says.
In General Santos City, where Refmad Farms also helps the San Antonio Dragon Fruit Farm, Jose Fortunato Uy says their company is planning to get rid of a portion of its unprofitable mango orchard so they can go into dragon fruit farming.
“As we foresee a great demand in the local and international market, we hope to expand more and probably we could export one day soon,” Uy says.
Like other first-time growers, Couple Raffi and Honey Grace Catalan of Bacolod City did not know anything about dragon fruit. Honey Grace, a breast cancer survivor, says she learned about dragon fruit through her friend, Susan Go, who introduced her to Refmad Farms.
“Before we knew it, we were in the farm [in Burgos, Ilocos Norte] and we were so amazed on how they grow organic dragon fruit. It’s a healthy food for us and we decided to turn our idle farm lot into a dragon fruit plantation,” says Honey Grace, who owns the one-year-old Hosanah Dragon Fruit Farm in Alangilan, Bacolod City.
She says the family is planning to introduce other products out of dragon fruit, as she is also engaged into baking and pastry making.
Dacuycuy says struggles came her way as she started and eventually expanded the dragon fruit business.
“But for every problem, there is always a solution. I believe things happen for a reason and we should always look at the positive side of everything,” she says.
Dacuycuy, a breast cancer survivor, wants every home to have a dragon fruit plant in its backyard, just enough for a family’s consumption. Her vision has slowly becoming a reality, at least in her home province of Ilocos Norte. Her passion to grow dragon fruit did not only influence more people to do business, they are now also into promoting health and wellness by promoting zero-waste organic dragon fruit farming in the Philippines.
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