BURGOS, Ilocos Norte: Over a decade since a scaly bright pink fruit that reminded some of a dragon found its way to the Philippines, tons of dragon fruit are now being produced in various parts of the country, providing a source of profits and livelihood to countryside entrepreneurs.
On August 26, the first shipment of more than 600 kilos of Philippine premium dragon fruit landed on Richmond City in British Columbia, Canada through fruit and vegetable importer Pahoa Produce Ltd.
While packing the freshly picked fruits in a box, Edita Aguinaldo-Dacuycuy, known as the multi-awarded “dragon fruit lady” of the Philippines for advancing dragon fruit production in the country, beams with pride.
In Canada, dragon fruit produced by the Dacuycuy family’s Refmad Farms in Paayas village, Burgos town sells at $7.99 a pound.
Edita’s daughter, Mildred, the farm’s operations manager, said: “It’s a long journey, which we have been waiting for. Now, what we’ve been working hard for is a success.”
Mildred hopes this will be the start of “something big” that will benefit organized dragon fruit growers in the country, given the huge demand for the fruit because of its mildly sweet taste and health benefits.
The cactus fruits, which is native to Central America according to the website dragonfruitpitaya.org, is a hit in the Asian market particularly in Vietnam where it is extensively cultivated.
Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or pitahaya, is popular among diabetics for its blood-glucose controlling properties. It is also a source of antioxidants, fiber, Omega 3s and minerals.
Since 2006, the mother-and-daughter tandem of Edita and Mildren had worked to develop their pioneering dragon fruit plantation and resort in Burgos.
Edita was inspired by her daughter Kaye, who has cerebral palsy. One of the fruit’s selling points is that it eases constipation, which is common among persons with cerebral palsy like Kaye.
With the support of government agencies working for the advancement of agriculture in the countryside, the Dacuycuy family found a strong support group of plant hobbyists, farm enthusiasts, scientists, researchers, extension workers and businessmen, among others.
The farm operation started as a pocket-sized garden at the Dacuycuy residence in Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte, with just a few cuttings of dragon fruit. It has since grown into a 30-hectare plantation in Burgos town.
Other farmer-cooperators and adopters followed suit, and the dragon fruit industry gained ground in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao over the past 10 years.
Dragon fruit products have also been developed—dragon fruit ice cream, dragon fruit energy tea, dragon fruit cookies, dragon fruit pandesal, dragon fruit jam, dragon fruit wine and dragon fruit soap.
Recently, Refmad Farms developed an “all-natural and organic” dragon fruit freeze-dried extract powder that can be used for smoothies, teas and food.