One crop that we can grow in the Philippines but which we are not growing on a commercial scale is the jackfruit. No wonder our supermarkets, as well as fast food chains in the Philippines, are sourcing their requirements from Vietnam.

By Zac B. Sarian

1. JACKFRUIT IS BIG BUSINESS IN VIETNAM

We visited Vietnam recently and we found out the reason why our local business people are buying their supplies of frozen jackfruit pulp from that country. The reason is that they can buy all that they need from just one source. In the Philippines, they simply cannot buy jackfruit pulp in bulk from one supplier. So it is more convenient for them to import.

Somewhere in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, we visited the biggest processor of jackfruit. This is MIT International, which claims to account for about 70 percent of the jackfruit supply in Vietnam. There we saw easily more than 30 people extracting the pulp from the fruit of the jackfruit. Most of the extracted pulp is frozen and exported to different countries, including the Philippines. Three classes, from A to C, are exported. These are used in halo-halo, turon, and other preparations in the Philippines. The average price for it in Vietnam is US$ 1,700 per ton.

Nick Trinh, managing director of MIT International, said they process about 20 container loads of jackfruit pulp each week. Of course that’s a lot of jackfruit. The good thing is that there are enough fruits delivered by farmers to the facility for processing.

The secret, according to Trinh, is that they buy everything that the farmers deliver. They don’t have any rejects. That’s probably because the farmers also do their own quality control. They don’t deliver fruits unfit for processing.

The other secret is to make sure that the farmers are making money. That way, they will keep on producing whatever is In the case of the jackfruit planters, they plant only one variety, a latexless strain originally from Thailand. That is the reason why the fruits that they deliver to the factory are uniform and so is the quality of the pulp.

Good rapport with the farmers is important to the management of MIT International. Nick Trinh related that a few years ago, a group of unscrupulous Chinese tried to sabotage their operations. The Chinese group bought the trees of 80 per cent of their suppliers for about a thousand dollars per tree. Eventually, the trees were killed.

The group of Trinh just let the incident pass, operating at only about 20 percent of their usual volume. The farmers who sold their trees eventually went back to them after learning their lesson. They have now become more loyal to MIT International.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

The coming of a new technology called IQF or Instant Quick Freeze could add further value to jackfruit and other agricultural commodities. The IQF technology can freeze fruits or vegetables in a matter of three to four minutes compared to the more than one hour needed for blast freezing.

The result of IQF is that the commodity remains fresh and crunchy after thawing. The same technology is reportedly now being used in the Philippines for quick-freezing sliced bananas for export to Europe. The IQF technology can now transform the “reject” bananas in the Philippines (those that are either too big or too small, or with some other defects) into exportable products.

If the IQF technology could be applied to jackfruit in Vietnam, the product could fetch a much higher price in the market because of its freshness. One company in An Giang province
with an IQF facility that we visited can quick-freeze 12.5 tons of commodities per hour, but are not yet processing jackfruit.

WHAT CAN BE DONE IN PH 

The supermarkets are not the only customers looking for supplies of jackfruit pulp. There are makers of sweet preserves who need the pulp for bottling. There are also big local fruit processors who need the product in big volumes. Profoods in Cebu has a huge fruit processing capacity and will surely be glad to produce dried jackfruit if the raw materials are available in big volumes at a reasonable price.

So, what should be done in the Philippines? For a start, a town, a province, or a region that is best suited for jackfruit production should be identified. Once that is done, the government and the private sector should collaborate to enable the widespread planting of a selected variety or varieties of the fruit crop in the area. How?

The Department of Agriculture should come up with a program that will encourage farmers to plant jackfruit in the identified locality. A package of technology (POT) on jackfruit production should be made, based on science. Seedlings of a superior variety or varieties should be multiplied either by the government or by private nurserymen or both. Financial support in the form of low-interest loans should be accessible to planters. Technicians who are knowledgeable in jackfruit production should be available to assist farmers at all times.

The next step is to encourage investors to put up a postharvest processing plant that will process the fruits into marketable forms like fresh or frozen pulp, dehydrated, or some other forms.

What is most important, however, is to make sure that the farmers make money. They should be paid on time at a fair price for their harvest. Otherwise, they will stop planting jackfruit.

2. GREASELESS FRIED FRUITS & ROOTS

One interesting facility that we visited in Vietnam was the Quynh Anh company in Dong Nai province north of Ho Chi Minh City. It specializes in fried fruits and roots with no traceof oil in the finished products. They are greaseless, crisp, and very nice to eat. Jackfruit is the main fruit that is processed by the company.

According to Le Dinh Tuan, president of the company, about a hundred farmers supply the company with jackfruit. The farmers extract the edible parts of the fruit before they sell these. The going price during our visit was the equivalent of R27 per kilo in Philippine money. That’s really cheap.

Tuan said jackfruit is available in Dong Nai nine months of the year. When jackfruit is not in season, the company processes a lot of taro, sweet potato, banana, and lotus seeds. The fried banana is particularly nice to eat. Though no sugar or sweetener is added, it is sweet and very crisp.

The company processes about one ton of fresh jackfruit pulp a day. That means about 500 to 600 kilos of fried fruits daily. Tuan said that five to six kilos of fresh jackfruit pulp make one kilo of fried fruit.

What is good about Quynh Anh is that it is located right where the raw materials are produced. Business must really be good because they are putting up a bigger processing facility targeting the overseas market. The fried products of Quynh Anh are sold in Vietnam supermarkets and groceries, the airport and outlets in other places. One Filipino businesswoman, Donna Cancio-Le, is planning to include them with products she wants to supply to cruise ships that ply around the globe. Incidentally, Donna displayed the fried products from Quynh Anh during the recent 18th National Mango Congress in Laoag City. The attendees really loved them and many bought them for their own consumption or for giving as gifts to friends.

The technology used is said to be much cheaper than vacuum frying. The fried fruits and roots pass through a machine that takes out the oil. That’s one technology that our scientists should do research on.

3. DRAGON FRUIT IN VIETNAM

Dragon fruit production in Vietnam is different ina number of ways when compared to that in the  Philippines. In our country, dragon fruit farmers are usually on their own growing the fruit crop on limited farm lots.

The bigger ones in the Philippines, like Refmad Farm of Edita Dacuycuy in Burgos, IlocosNorte, grow their dragon fruit on about 10  hectares or a bit more. In other places like Pangasinan, Cavite, and elsewhere, the area planted to it may not exceed 10 hectares. Many are growing their dragon fruit on even less than a hectare. Some are just backyard growers. In contrast, one farm that we visited in Long An province has a plantation of 100 hectares. In the adjoining areas, other farmers are growing on no less than 700 hectares. Thus the visitor will see nothing  but dragon fruit as far as the eye can see.

Our guide, Michael Nguyen Dinh Le, a financial and investment executive, recounted that several years back, the place used to be rice land. A feasibility study, however, showed that dragon fruit could be a more profitable crop for the farmers to grow, hence the shift.

In the Philippines, many people believe that dragon fruit, being a cactus, is‘afraid’ of water. In Long An, we have seen that dragon fruit loves adequate  moisture in the soil. We have seen canals between rows and between hills in the rows where irrigation water flows. We have also seen sacks of organic fertilizer distributed along the rows ready for application. The plants are very green, robust, and fruitful.

ADVANTAGES

There are a number of advantages when a certain crop isgrown by farmers in big commercial volumes in a certain locality. For one,  the government can extend help in developing markets outside the country. Adequate financing could be more accessible. For another reason, investors might be encouraged to put up processing plants because they are assured of enough materials for processing.

With the new IQF technology mentioned in the jackfruit story above, there are excellent possibilities for the export of quick-frozen dragon fruit. Aside from  Antesco, HPC, a big company in Ho Chi Minh City, is doing a lot of quick freezing. Among the vegetables they are quick freezing for export to Japan and many other countries are broccoli, French bean (snap bean), cauliflower, straw mushroom, okra, sitao or yardlong bean, calamansi, avocado, guyabano, passion fruit, jackfruit, caimito, Barbados cherry or acerola, pineapple, dragon fruit, mango, cantaloupe, watermelon, banana, longan, lychee, sweet potato sticks and cubes, and taro.

The advantage of IQF is that the commodity is frozen in just a matter of 3to 4 minutes compared to the one hour it takes in blast freezing. Thus, when  the quick-frozen product is exported, the freshness and nutrients are retained. When packed together, the pieces of quick frozen products don’t stick together. And when thawed they don’t turn soggy. Thus, aside from exporting whole fresh fruits of dragon fruit, ready-to-eat slices could be quick-frozen for the world market.

In marketing, the farmers, when grouped together, have better bargaining power when dealing  with traders. They can negotiate for a reasonable price for their produce that will assure them a profitable return on investment.

On the whole, our trip to Vietnam courtesy of Donna Cancio-Le was most fruitful. We saw ideas and strategies that our farmers and agriculture officials can adopt for more profitable farming. With us was Virgie de la Fuente, president of the Mango Industry Foundation, Inc., who is interested in the possibility of adopting IQF technology for the mango industry and for other food products.

This appeared in Agricultural Monthly’s April 2016 issue.