DURIAN now reeks of fortune. From a discouraging bottom-low farm-gate price every festival season of August, farmers now are returning to their farms in earnest.
From unkempt and weedy farms of yore when traders in shiny sedans and pickup trucks would force durian fruit farmers to sell their fruit for as low as P5 per kilo, lucky farmers now are keeping their farms clean and orderly, and some have been expanding, too.
The bright shining star here is the spark of hope created in April, when China officially opened its doors for the direct importation of the “king of fruits”—meat, pulp and thorns, all included.
The industry and the Department of Agriculture (DA) are yet to give an exact or even a ballpark figure on the income derived from the fruit export since April.
However, exporters and some growers who were lucky to ride into the exportation euphoria are keeping their fingers crossed for still better opportunities ahead, including increasing their production to fill an unmet demand from China, the world’s largest market today.
JOSE CUBOL rued the days when his durian trees were only wasting the space of his five-hectare farm lot to earn only as much as P40 per kilo of fruits during better days, but peak season of harvest from all the other durian growers was not one of them.
An abundant harvest may be good for Davao City, especially to mark the annual Kadayawan Festival, a festive season to commemorate the fruit harvest season.
For durian growers, a bountiful harvest of durian, even lanzones, marang and mangosteen, spells a bottom-line income of as low as P5 a kilo.
“On good days, especially during the first batch of harvest, durian would be bought at P40 a kilo direct from our farms. Frequently, it would be averaging at P20, or P10, and during the full fruiting season, for as low as P5,” he said.
“Who would be happy with that?” he told the BusinessMirror.
Then, the farms were a messy sight of untended trees, tall weeds and clingy vines that form foliage that is not so pleasing to the sight.
In April and forward, a kilo of durian was fetching as much as P100 a kilo for the type A (good export quality), averaging a weight of two kilos.
The fruit that weighs upward of three kilos would be priced at P80, still qualified to be exported for the type B category or classification. Fruits weighing six kilos are classified as oversized and more than 6.5 kilos are called rejects, and have to be opened and their meat repacked in plastics to be sold locally or to Metro Manila.
“There was fruit reaching 18 kilos that was now entered into the books,” Cubol said.
“It should be round, weighing between two kilos and 3.5 kilos. That’s how we size up the fruits for export,” he said.
The first shipment was rushed on a Holy Thursday after the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC), the headquarters of China Customs, confirmed Beijing’s approval to receive the durian from the Philippines. This, following a series of farm inspections here and business-to-business negotiations since December last year.
Abel James I. Monteagudo, director of the Davao regional office of the DA, said the initial shipment was bought at a farm-gate price of between P65 and P80, already a big improvement from the much lower buying price in the past decades, which could be as low as P20 on peak harvests.
The volume was accounted for mainly by Eng Seng group of companies, one of the city’s biggest growers and consolidators, and the rest by the members of the Durian Industry Association of Davao City.
Emmanuel Belviz, president of the association, said export activities have been going on as frequently as three or four times a week, because several individual growers or companies are exporting their products on their own.
One exporter he did not name was able to export as much as eight 40-footer container vans each week; and one multinational company, which traditionally exports bananas and pineapples, is already exporting four container vans of durian each week.
Two other big exporters and a small one each export two tons to four tons of durian.
NOT only are durian farmers returning to their durian farms and adapting the standard good agricultural practices, some are expanding their areas and putting up plant nurseries.
Cubol said he has acquired or rented some areas that now total 13 hectares, from only five hectares of his own.
Dario Divino, the designated focal person on industrial crops at the City Agriculturist Office, said that last year, 4,408 farmers planted durian as a crop to 3,388.65 hectares. They harvested 12,929.63 metric tons (MT) from 2,176.32 hectares also last year.
Belvis said the Davao Region has planted durian to 8,700 hectares; and Davao City growers annually produce 41,145 MT, accounting for slightly half of the country’s production reaching 79,000 MT.
Besides Davao Region, Belviz said the other production area is in North Cotabato. Before durian, the Davao Region is known for its banana export to Japan, South Korea, the Middle East and China.
RUBY Bernales, another durian grower, said there are still durian farmers “who do not know proper handling.” Before, she said, “we just harvest, transport them to the market, and it’s done.”
Belvis said many farmers are backyard growers of as many as only 10 trees. “We have to upgrade and help them appreciate entrepreneurship to increase income,” he added.
“When we speak of farmers, they are the same, whether they are in the Philippines, Malaysia, or Indonesia,” Belvis remarked. “However, in Malaysia and Indonesia, farmers return home in their Hi-Lux pickups, while Filipino farmers return home on their carabao.”
Malaysia, Belvis added, “is known for its sustainability practices in agriculture, and Thailand, for its high-density farming.”
Arlene Tiwan, agricultural technician from the Department of Agriculture’s High Value Crops division, announced the plan of the regional office to distribute 64,000 seedlings of the Puyat variety, the most in-demand variety for its meat volume per fruit and for its milder taste and acceptable taste register to first-time and non-durian eaters.
The seedlings will be given to farmers’ associations to cover a total of 60,000 hectares. Free fertilizers will also be given as an incentive package for farmers to plant.
She said the regional DA office has given P50 million to durian planters from 2017 to 2021. For next year alone, the fund assistance is as much as P30 million.
Belvis said the new interest in durian came after the Philippines, Davao City in particular, broke through the China front door, and “there is now a huge market for durian.”
“It is really a big challenge because the market for durian is not only local. We also have China now,” he said.