Several study tours were carried out by this author in 2015 and early 2016 in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia. Thailand, and Vietnam to identify opportunities in producing and marketing Philippine fruits in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

By Pablito P. Pamplona, Ph.D.

These study tours were complemented by the review of pertinent papers available on the Internet and other sources on marketing and the research and development (R&D) strategies of various members of the AEC for the expanded production and marketing of tropical fruits. The information gathered revealed that there are many opportunities that the AEC offers in the production and marketing of Philippine fruits.

The identified opportunities maybe grouped thus. First, the Philippines has a comparative advantage, owing to its advanced technologies and unique agroclimatic conditions in the production of some fruits like Cavendish and Lakatan bananas, carabao mango,and pummeloas compared to Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. The Philippines is already a major exporter of the Cavendish banana but is only a minor exporter of carabao mango, and is not an exporter of Lakatan banana in AEC countries.

Second, the differences in the seasonality and the occurrence of secondary fruiting for some tropical fruits in the Philippines provides the opportunity for these fruit crops to be produced during the regular fruiting season in the Philippines for export as off-season fruits to other AEC countries as shown in Table 1. The flowering and fruiting of tropical fruits in the Philippines is influenced by both the Northeast monsoon (October to March) and Southwest monsoon (April to September); in Malaysia and Indonesia, the flowering and fruiting of tropical fruits is influenced largely by the Southwest monsoon. Thailand, on the other hand, is influenced strongly by the Northeast monsoon and only marginally by the Southwest monsoon.

Third, some fruits may also be produced in the Philippines and exported as complements of similar fruits being produced and exported from Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Concerning the comparative advantage of the Philippines, today, the best world’s Cavendish bananas are produced in Mindanao due to its unique agro-climatic conditions coupled with good agricultural practices (GAP). After more than 20 years of research on ASEAN agriculture, this author is convinced that the same unique agro-climatic conditions in Mindanao, when coupled with GAP, can produce the world’s best Lakatan banana, pummelo, durian, longkong, mangosteen, and other tropical fruits for the AEC and other markets.

Production and Marketing of Tropical Fruits in the AEC

Over the last two decades, Thailand emerged as the largest producer and exporter of tropical fruits in the AEC and a major tropical fruit exporter worldwide, with exports valued at over US$ 1 billion annually. The country achieved this with massive government support for infrastructure, R&D for modernization and innovative GAP, market development and promotion plus the industry of its farmers. The top six fruit commodities exported from Thailand are durian, longan, longkong, mangosteen, rambutan, and mango. The six minor commodities exported include pummelo, lychee, tangerine, banana, and papaya.

Vietnam generates 50% of its export revenues from dragon fruit. It also exports banana, pineapple, mandarin, sweet orange, pummelo, mango, rambutan, longan, and lychee. Almost a third of these exports go to China; the rest are distributed among the USA, South Korea, Japan, Netherlands, and other ASEAN countries. Malaysia exports durian, mangosteen, duku lanzones, and rambutan within and outside AEC, particularly the Middle East countries. Singapore is a major importer of tropical fruits—pummelo, durian, longkong, and more—in order to cater to the needs of over 15 million tourists visiting the country every year.

The Philippines is a major producer and exporter of four fruit crops, namely: Cavendish banana, pineapple, mango, and papaya. The Philippines generates over US$ 500,000 from the export of tropical fruits. More than 90% of the export value comes from the combined sale of Cavendish banana and pineapple. A small segment of these exports go to members of the AEC. Investments in both Cavendish banana and pineapple are largely made by multinational firms, with Filipinos providing land for lease and farm labor.

Emerging Complementation in the Production and Marketing of Fruits in the AEC

Complementation, as discussed here, refers to the production of fruit commodities in one country to meet the demand for it in another AEC country. One interesting observation made by this author during the AEC study tours is the large-scale commercial production of seedless guava variety “Kim Chou” in Thailand for the Malaysian market. As noted, the Malaysians like Kim Chouguava, which can be produced at a cheaper price and of better quality in Thailand than in Malaysia. Hence, large areas in the Central plain of Thailand are grown to Kim Chou for the Malaysian market, benefiting both Thai farmers and Malaysian consumers.

Another case of complementation in the AEC is the production and marketing of Cambodian mango variety “Kaew Khamin.” Thailand produces and exports large quantities of mango. The country has a huge demand for mango, and satisfying this demand accounts for 94% of the total production. Part of the demand for domestic consumption is met by importing a substantial quantity of Kaew Khamin mango from Cambodia.

Kaew Khamin produced in Cambodia has a peculiar quality of taste that Thais like, and is sold at a cheaper price compared to those produced in Thailand. These complementations suggest  that Thailand and other members of the AEC are open to importing fruits from other AEC countries as long as the taste matches the preference of consumers and the price is affordable.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand import the Philippine Cavendish banana. The cost of producing Cavendish banana in these countries is higher than in the Philippines, and the quality of the fruits is inferior to those produced in the Philippines. Considering the commonalities of taste between Filipinos and the Malay populace of neighboring AEC countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand are more likely to prefer (and buy) Lakatan over Cavendish if the former is made available at a reasonable price and of good quality from the Philippines. Hence, there is the potential of exporting Lakatan banana to these

The Development of the Philippine Export Fruits to AEC Countries

Years back, this writer carried out extensive documentation on the production practices of tropical fruit in the ASEAN. Consequently, he published four technoguide handbooks, one each for durian, mangosteen, pummelo, and longkong (as shown in Fig. 1). Thousands of copies of each of these handbooks were made available to Filipino farmers. These helped in generating interest and accelerating the expansion of areas devoted to the production of these four fruit commodities which are now emerging as potential crops for export within and outside the AEC.

It is an opportune time to move the production and marketing of these fruits to much higher volumes and to improve quality to meet high demands within and outside the AEC. The exports of Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam may serve as indicators as to where these fruits may be exported outside the AEC. For example, Vietnam exports pummelo to Singapore, Netherlands, Canada, and Russia. Thailand exports longkong to Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, and durian and mangosteen to many tropical and subtropical countries.The expanded production for the export of these fruits will benefit Filipino farmers in terms of additional farms being brought to high productivity; they, in turn, will enjoy higher incomes, which will help them overcome poverty. Expanded production will also promote employment and countryside prosperity. As observed by this writer, farmers cultivating these fruits generate higher incomes than those cultivating staple crops.

Positioning Some Philippine Fruits for Export

a. Pummelo
The Philippine “Magallanes” pummelo variety produces high yields of superior quality fruits compared to the fruits of the best varieties of pummelo from the other AEC countries. The genetic component coupled with the unique agro-climatic condition of Mindanao help bring about its superior fruit quality. Production of the superior “Magallanes” pummelo is limited to a very specific type of agro-climatic condition. The fruits are golden in color and have smooth skin. The peel is thin; the aril is slightly pinkish; it is seedless; and it has an inviting sweetness which lasts long after harvest when GAP is used.

Field trials of the many foreign introduced pummelo varieties at Triple P Farms and Nursery (TPFN) in Kabacan, Cotabato reveals that the fruits of the Vietnam pummelo variety “Nam Roi,” the Thailand pummelo variety “Tha Khoi,” and the Malaysian pummelo variety “Melo Mas” are among the best. The fruits have almost the same sweetness as the Magallanes fruits; however, these foreign varieties have rougher skins and thick peels, and are largely irregular in shape and size (Fig. 2). The flesh of these foreign varieties is seeded. In the export market, seedless pummelo fruits are considered superior to seeded pummelo fruits. The average yield of  those foreign varieties, both in their home country and at TPFN, is only 70% to 80% ofthe yield of “Magallanes” pummelo using GAP.

In the event that the other members of the AEC prefer the fruits of their country’s identified varieties over “Magallanes,” the same varieties can be produced in Mindanao with similar or better quality as those produced in their home country. Hence, there is the potential for producing the fruits of these foreign varieties for export to the country of origin as off-season or complement fruits.

Findings of the field trials at TPFN also show that the quality of an unknown variety of pummelo grown in large areas in California, USA for export to South Korea produces in Mindanao fruits equal to or better than those grown in California, USA. This indicates that the fruits of this pummelo variety can be commercially produced in Mindanao and exported to South Korea. There is still a need to evaluate the performance of foreign pummelo varieties in Luzon and Visayas. The initial evaluation is that the Malaysian “Melo Mas” and the Vietnam “Nam Roi” produce very sweet quality fruits in some parts of Luzon where “Magallanes” does not produce quality fruits.

b. Longkong
Longkong, whose areas of production are rapidly expanding in the Philippines, produces fruits of the same or better quality than those produced in Thailand when GAP is used. When grown as reforestation trees with limited to no fertilization, pruning, fruit thinning, etc., the trees flower and fruit irregularly, sometimes with just one fruiting every two years with low yield, and the fruits produced are of low quality with shorter shelf lives. Secondary fruiting in a year under GAP occurred in Mindanao, brought about by the bimodal type of rainfall in this island—but not in Thailand and Malaysia except in a small portion of Sabah near Mindanao. This creates an opportunity for the Philippines to produce and export longkong to countries where there is a high demand for this fruit, such as Singapore, Brunei, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and China.

(Author’s note: A separate article shall discuss how to position durian and mangosteen in the export market inside and outside the AEC.)

Using Gap to Produce Export Quality Pummelo and Longkong

1. Pummelo Production

To produce large quantities of quality Magallanes pummelo fruit for both the domestic and export markets, modern and innovative techniques should be used. Some of these are shown in Fig. 3. These include the use of Calamandarin rootstock in asexual propagation to control or minimize the damage of phytopthora, gummosis, and greening diseases.

A single rootstock is recommended as double rootstocks aggravate the occurrence of gummosis. The use of largesize planting materials (LPM) of four to six feet tall in field planting offers advantages over the use of smaller planting materials. It reduces the immaturity period from five to four years or earlier, resulting in the early derivation of income from the crop and return of investment. The experience of the writer in his farm is that pummelo produces flowers and fruits as early as three years. However, export quality fruits are produced only after five years, meaning the fruits produced during the third and fourth years are of inferior quality.

On fruiting, GAP in the areas of adequate weed control, irrigation, fertilization, and control of pests and diseases are needed for high productivity and regularity of production, including secondary fruiting within a year. The storage life of the fruits depends greatly on the level of fertilization during fruit development; adequate fertilization lengthens the storage life of the fruits.

The use of irrigation is an added advantage for high yields and for offseason production and/or two fruitings per year. Mature plants yield higher and the quality of the fruits is better when grown in full sunlight as a monocrop rather than as intercrop or when partially shaded. The major insect pests—rind borer, thrips, red mites, and scale bugs—are effectively controlled by using the recommended pesticides, whether organic and inorganic, or by the use of individual fruit netting, such as a 1 mm grid blue nylon net measuring 40×50 cm (Fig. 3). Covering the fruits with newspaper during the summer, similar to what is done with mango fruits, reduces fruit scalding. Harvesting the fruits at the right stage of maturity is important. The shelf life of fruits can be extended for six months by dipping harvested fruits in GA2 solution, using PVC wrapping, and keeping the fruits at 14OC.This prevents the yellowing of fruit skin and loss of weight for six months.

2. Longkong Production

The areas planted to longkong are expanding steadily in the country, particularly in Mindanao and many areas in Luzon and Visayas, including Palawan, where the crop is found to be highly suited for its agricultural conditions. This expansion should be accelerated to meet the huge demand for the fruit in the domestic and export markets.

Longkong provides farmers with a much higher income compared to the production of local lanzones varieties ‘Paete’, ‘Camiguin’, and ‘Jolo’. Many farmers who planted lanzonesare now cutting and replacing their native lanzones trees with longkong. The best and faster way to replace lanzones with longkong trees is by modified topworking of the lanzones with longkong, so that fruiting can occur within three years of topworking.

The longkong variety or type obtained from the province of Narathiwat in Thailand is superior compared to those obtained from other places in Thailand and Malaysia. It is used as the standard for the longkong exports of Thailand. The quality of the fruits is being upgraded regularly through the Thai annual contest among farmers to produce the best fruits (as shown in Fig. 4). The Thais believe that the best longkong came from a single tree discovered in Sepo Village, in the town of Tanyong Mat, Narathiwat Province, Thailand almost 100 years ago.

To produce export quality longkong fruits, this type of planting material should be used. The fruits produced are superior, as can be seen in their characteristics: these have an inviting aroma and are practically latexless, with few to no seeds. The fruits also have a long shelf life of 12 to 14 days under room temperatures, which can be extended to over 25 days when kept at 18OC.

A package of GAP is available for high yield production of quality longkong fruits. This involves growing asexually propagated longkong plants with banana, coconut trees, or madre de cacao as the nurse crop during the immature stage of three years. Plants in double rootstocks offer no advantage over those propagated in single rootstocks.

At maturity, high productivity is obtained when longkong is grown under full sunlight and in irrigated and adequately fertilized conditions. The use of LPM of four to five feet reduces the immaturity period from five to less than four years. GAP—including adequate weeding, an excellent irrigation and drainage system, and fertilization— are needed for so that farmers can enjoy second fruitings every year. Providing the plants with irrigation and adequate fertilization results in added advantages: high productivity, secondary fruiting within the year, and preventing fruit cracking during sudden rains when the fruits are about to mature.

Major pests and diseases like psylids, aphids, scab, and fruit black spot are readily controlled by cultural/nutritional practices and the use of largely organic pesticides. Fruit thinning in order to produce uniformly large bunches of marketable fruits is important. The use of growth regulators like GA2 helps in the development of large panicles for the fruits and in preventing fruit drops.

Governments Role on Promoting the Export of Pummelo and Longkong

Most producers of pummelo and longkong in the Philippines are small farmers with two to three hectares. Government support is needed in capacitating these farmers to use GAP to produce high yields of quality fruits for both the domestic and export markets. Research is needed to overcome current and emerging problems, and to improve technologies for inducing secondary fruiting and for off-season production. Likewise, government help is needed in coming up with an effective value-chain production system for export wherein all participating stakeholders, particularly the farmers, will enjoy its benefits as it promotes inclusive growth in the countryside.

1. The author maintains TPFN, a six-hectare demo farm on the production of pummelo, durian, mangosteen, longkong, and the special coconut varieties ‘Nam Wan’ and ‘Nam Hom’, in Katidtuan, Kabacan, Cotabato. The farm grows almost a hundred longkong trees, which were first obtained in the 1980s from the famous original longkong tree in Narathiwat, Thailand. It also features the innovative topworking of inferior lanzones trees to longkong and the inferior durian clones to Rajah Kunyit or Musang King, Chantaburi 1, and Puang Manee, which are considered among the best durian varieties in Malaysia and Thailand. Farmers and students of pomology are welcome to visit for free to observe GAPwhile the farm is still being developed for a gro-tourism.

2. The author plans to carry out another one-week study tour in Thailand in either May or June 2016 to coincide with the annual durian festival in Chantaburi, Thailand. The purpose is to acquire innovative knowledge and skills in the cultivation of durian, longkong, special coconut, mangosteen, and other tropical fruits. The Thais are very innovative in the cultivation of tropical fruit trees, and the author is inviting paying participants (limited to 15 persons) to join him on this trip on a first-come, first-served basis. Interested participants may email for details.

3. A detailed discussion of the modern practices in producing quality Magallanes pummelo is found in the “Handbook on Pummelo Production Practices in the ASEAN” with this writer as the senior author. Likewise, a detailed discussion of the modern practices in longkong production is discussed in the book, “Handbook on the Lansium Production in the ASEAN” with this writer as the senior author. Copies are available for sale.