ILOCOS Norte ? Thanks to a daughter afflicted with cerebral palsy, Editha Dacuycuy, 53, discovered the wonders of dragon fruit, a vine-like cactus species that bears pear-shaped fruits that have a sweetish white or bright pink flesh. Pitaya or pitihaya, as the fruit is known locally, also has healing properties, Dacuycuy found out.
Dragon fruit is popular in South America and is also being cultivated in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and, recently, in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, in northern Philippines.
Four years ago, Dacuycuy was on the lookout for alternative medication that could cure her daughter?s frequent constipation, a common problem among cerebral palsy patients. A friend gave her some dragon fruit from Macau which, this mother found out, proved effective in inducing regular bowel movement. Dacuycuy, a former manager of an insurance company and a psychology graduate of the University of the Philippines, found herself browsing the Internet to learn more about this exotic fruit. The dragon fruit, she found out, was also known as a ?cleansing fruit? in South America.
She also learned that according to physicians and nutrition experts, the dragon fruit is rich in fiber that helps in the elimination of wastes, and that it contains high levels of vitamin C, calcium and phosphorous. Its other nutritional benefits include high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatism and urinary tract infection.
These findings led Dacuycuy to search for dragon fruit seedlings. To her surprise, she discovered that some of her friends have dragon fruit planted in their garden. However, they didn?t realize its fruit was edible, since they had mistakenly thought it was just an ordinary cactus plant.
?They consider it ornamental, and they plant it because they love its flowers,? she said.
From single cuttings she got from friends, Dacuycuy managed to propagate the plant until they bore fruit several months after. Encouraged, she sent a daughter to Thailand to learn how to care for the plant, and later consulted the Department of Agriculture in her municipality on the proper management of her dragon fruit farm, the first in Region I in northern Philippines.
Dacuycuy?s dragon fruit farm now covers five hectares in Barangay (village) Paayas, Burgos, Ilocos Norte. From a single variety, she has managed to grow at least five other varieties, with flesh of varied colors: dark pink, light pink, red, white and yellow. She has five regular helpers, mostly women, who do the potting, cleaning and watering of the plants. From May to November, the fruit season, she also hires other laborers to help harvest the fruits and deliver them to local markets, where they are sold at about P150 per kilo.
At first, people wondered about the strange fruit and how it could be eaten. (Just slice the fruit and scoop out the juicy flesh, filled with tiny seeds that could also be eaten.) Soon enough, however, they?ve been using it for relief of various ailments. Marieta Rivera, 49, a diabetic, said she has been eating dragon fruit regularly to maintain her sugar level.
Dacuycuy added that aside from being eaten raw, the dragon fruit is highly economical: Nothing is wasted because its pulp and flowers can also be cooked as vegetable (plain or as salad) and used as garnish in either fish or meat recipes like sinigang (sour soup), sweet meat and bulalo (boiled beef shank).
?The dried flowers of the dragon fruit can be cut into pieces and cooked as lumpiang shanghai or burger patties. You may also add some carrots or meat seasoning to taste,? said Dacuycuy. ?But don?t throw the pulp skin,? she added, because this can also be cooked as jam or jelly or boiled as tea.
Because she believes in the health benefits of dragon fruit, Dacuycuy makes sure that the fruit is grown organically in her farm.
With the help of agriculture experts, technicians and researchers from government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Mariano Marcos State University?s (MMSU) extension services, Dacuycuy?s dragon fruit farm has become one of the show windows of organic farming. The farm uses dried leaves mixed with animal manure as organic fertilizer and employs integrated pest management to control diseases and pests attracted to the dragon fruit flowers. Dacuycuy recently received a shredder machine from the DOST-MMSU, which she uses to improve the farm?s production of organic fertilizers.
Through word of mouth by those who visit her farm and through agricultural trade fairs and exhibits, where the Dacuycuy farm is often an active participant, several farmer-cooperators have started investing in dragon fruit farming here. According to Dacuycuy, some five hectares are now being developed by some farmer-cooperators in Laoag City and Burgos, Ilocos Norte. It is a sound investment, she added.
Dacuycuy estimates that a single pole of dragon fruit can yield an income of P1,000 a year. This means that for every hectare of land planted with 1,000 poles of dragon fruit, the return of investment can run to as much as P1 million annually. The dragon fruit plant has a life span of 50 years.
With the growing demand for dragon fruit in the local market, and considering its nutritional benefits, Dacuycuy has decided to share her know-how on the cultivation of the plant. She envisions putting up a distillery plant in the near future, where she and other farmer-cooperators can operate a dragon fruit winery. To make the distillery plant feasible, however, some 50 hectares of land must be planted with dragon fruit, she added. It remains a dream at this point, but hopefully not for long. ? ?Women?s Feature Service