Securing the future: Local pili industry needs government protection as PH resumes exports to EU

By Oliver Samson

As the European Union member countries import raw pili nuts from the Philippines anew, the leader of a pili group has called on the government to protect the Philippine pili industry.

Joeriz P. Olbes, president of Philippine Pili Industry League, Inc., said the government should protect the nation’s status as the top pili nut producing country.

He said the importers are interested in dried and unroasted nuts, and raw pili nuts still in shell.

Export of raw pili nuts in shell is prohibited

As talks around the interest of importers in pili nuts still in hard shells continue to swirl, Olbes has expressed opposition to it, citing RA No. 9147.

RA No. 9147, otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, provides the government with environmental policy that empowers it to conserve and manage wildlife resources.

The law is the basis for the Bureau of Plant Industry to ban export of pili nuts in shell.

“We have to protect our pili industry,” Olbes said. “When the raw pili nuts still in shell have the capacity to germinate are smuggled into another country, it poses a threat to the local industry.”

The Regulations of the Pili Nuts Raw Materials to Export states that raw pili nuts are planting materials, and that exportation of raw pili nuts in shell for commercial propagation is prohibited. 

But Olbes said he would support exportation of raw pili nut in shell only if the government could ensure that it’s devitalized before exiting Philippine territory.

Pili industry players should also be equipped by the government with the ability to determine that the raw pili nuts to be exported are indeed devitalized, he noted.

“But even if there is a heat treatment to devitalize the raw pili nuts in the shell, we are still worried that raw pili nuts that are potent to germinate will be smuggled,” Olbes said. “Everyone knows how money works in a system like ours.”

If volumes of non-devitalized raw pili nuts are smuggled into another country, the local pili industry may start to collapse after 20 years or so, he said.

Olbes doesn’t consider the EU as a threat to the local pili industry, but he does worry that non-devitalized nuts might end up in an Asian country.

According to Olbes, the inclusion of five approved varieties of canarium ovatum–Magnaye, Laysa, Orolfo, Mayon, and Magayon–as the only varieties allowed for export to EU markets serves to protect the raw materials from the natural standing pili trees in the wilds.

“But this remains to be seen since current volumes of productions are mostly taken from the wilds and are just attested to by buyers and consolidators,” he said. 

The regulatory division of the Department of Agriculture in Region 5 has recommended the devitalization of the pili nut and the need for a  scientific basis for a policy recommendation in the regulations for export of pili nuts before pili nuts in shell can be exported.

“But still, there is RA 9147 that serves as the basis for the prohibition of export of raw pili nuts in shell,” Olbes said. “I think the law shall be amended first if they want to export raw pili nuts in that state. The law doesn’t say any provisions about making the raw pili nuts devitalized.”

The regulatory division recommendations were meant for the time when exportation of raw pili nuts in shell has become lawful. 

The Pili Nut Growers of the Philippines, a social media group, also posted on their page early in June that raw pili nuts are prohibited for export, citing the same basis as Olbes.

The Philippines is the biggest pili nut producer today. Based on the Philippines Statistics Office’s 2021 data, the Bicol Region produced 84 percent of the total output, or 4,932.60 metric tons.

Sorsogon produces about 80 percent of the total production in the Bicol Region, Olbes said.

Many of the pili nut producers in the Bicol Region are farmers whose main crop is coconut. They have more or less 20 pili trees in the land they till.

To farmers whose main crop is coconut, pili nuts provide them with food and additional income. The pulp of the pili fruit is eaten with steamed fish or padas. The mature pili fruits are dipped in boiled water. When the pulp gets soft, the black skin on it is removed, then it is taken off the shell and eaten. Notice some copra at the upper left. (Oliver Samson)

The Philippines’ major markets for pili products include the United States of America, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and Canada.

J. Emmanuel Pastries, a pili nut confectioner based in Camarines Sur, exports its delicacies to Japan,  Korea, US, and Canada. It started as a pili nut producer.

In 2015, pili exports to the EU were suspended after the union issued new rules for novel foods. 

Protection of local processors

The exportation of raw pili nuts might also bring negative impacts to local confectioners, Olbes pointed out.

When the supply for local processors would drop as a result of exportations, the price of pili nuts would go up, he explained. The local processors would be forced to increase their prices.

Some pili nut dealers are unregistered, Olbes said. They bring raw pili nuts to Manila, making money without paying any tax. But the registered local processors who pay taxes to the government are the ones who are going to suffer.

“The government should prioritize the demand of local processors,” he said. “It should protect the local pili industry.”

Natural pili growing

Olbes has also appealed to the Department of Agriculture – Bicol Region to keep naturally grown pili trees in the wild and not replace them with grafted ones. The pili nut markets overseas are more interested in pili nuts that are naturally grown. 

A retired public school dentist harvests pili fruits. She grows some pili trees in farms mainly planted to coconut. (Oliver Samson)

Other parts of the country that are planting the five approved varieties of canarium ovatum should employ organic protocols, he said. They should also source the planting materials from nurseries registered with and accredited by the Bureau of Plant Industry.

“We do not encourage fertilization of pili trees in the natural stands in the wild,” Olbes said. “That’s why we encourage the Department of Agriculture – Bicol Region to protect the natural pili farming and the ecosystem.”

Photos by Oliver Samson

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