Collecting and evaluating plants with high yield and income potentials
Memoirs of an Agri Researcher
DURING THE FIRST WEEK of April 2018, I visited our fruit farms and found out that the trees of durian, mangosteen, rambutan, longkong, duko, pummelo, and other fruits were flowering profusely. I also noted similar profuse flowering in other fruit farms in South Cotabato, Davao City, Davao del Norte, Agusan, and Bukidnon. This means that this year 2018 there will be abundant fruits, a departure from the low fruiting during the last two years brought about by the occurrence of El Niño in 2016 and La Niña in 2017. This year is a great year for fruit growers in Mindanao and I am happy and inspired by this development! I took a part in the expansion of the fruit industry since the 1980s, having made inputs available to the farmers through our fruit nursery. I was also actively involved in farmers’ training for high productivity. Many of these activities were carried out under the USAID and PCARRD program.
We are inviting our friends from Luzon and Visayas to come to fruit festivals from August to October in various places of Mindanao to enjoy the bounty. Exporters are encouraged to prepare their platforms and resources to export fruits to China, Singapore, Japan, and other countries.
EXPECT HIGH INCOME FROM FRUITS IN 2018
Flowering of fruit trees and planting rice or corn have a common time to harvest. The period of waiting to harvest comes in four to six months after planting rice and flowering of fruit trees. The difference is, rice and corn farmers expect incomes from R20,000 to R30,000/ ha; fruit farmers expect incomes of from R200,000 to over one million pesos/ha depending on the type of fruit trees and the production management practices. Our observation over many years shows that mangosteen trees ten years old and above provide incomes of over R200,000/ ha per harvest, which is lower compared to the income in longkong; the income from longkong is lower compared to the income from durian; the income from durian is lower than the income from pummelo.
Pummelo is a millionaire crop, meaning an income of over a million pesos per hectare. This is on the assumption that the plants are provided with proper care and that the price of the fruits is right at harvest. Among the easiest fruit crops to grow is mangosteen, requiring practically no spraying of pesticides and pruning. Longkong and duku are also easy to maintain with a little spraying to control pests and diseases.
COLLECTING PLANTS A PASSION
I recall that after finishing a doctoral degree at UP Los Baños in the early 1980s, I developed a passion for collecting plants with superior genetic potential from abroad. Then I evaluated the performance of these plants in my farm. The passion for collection was accompanied by the strict discipline to save money for buying land areas which I used for plant evaluation and nursery.
Titles to these parcels of land are in the names of our eight children who were supported in college—some with advanced degrees—by the income from fruit farming – five in UP Los Baños, two in Ateneo University, and one in Fatima College in Bulacan. My ultimate motive for pursuing this passion was to mass produce high income plants and make them available to farmers who would then earn high incomes to overcome poverty.
I was fascinated by the success of transplanting both rubber from Latin America and oil palm from Africa to both Malaysia— which provided the farmers with high incomes and helped them overcome poverty. Today, poverty among farmers in Malaysia is less than 3%, unlike that of the Philippines which is still over 20%.
I started my plant collection of superior plant types with corn. Two years after my graduation from UPLB, I got a post-doctorate grant in CIMMYT Mexico. Before I returned to the Philippines, I toured some Latin American countries and the USA. Shortly after my return to the Philippines, I visited corn areas of India, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia. During those travels I
collected a small amount of seeds of the best corn varieties from each country. Then I carried on for four years of multiplication, purification, and evaluation before entering these materials in the Philippine Seed Board trial under the auspices of the Philippine Seed Board now the Philippine National Seed Industry Council.
Five years after that, seven of my many entries were approved as Philippine Seed Board as Philippine varieties. My counterpart who carried out traditional breeding at IPB in UPLB managed to get the release of only three varieties. I was inspired by that success and so I carried out the same work in durian. I visited many farms and research stations abroad, government and private, doing research and production on durian. Many of the more than 60 varieties I collected from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand were used for the rapid commercialization of durian in Mindanao since the late 1980s.
During those travels, I also documented the best nursery propagation and farm production practices. The adoption of the innovative propagation techniques being used by nursery operators in Thailand and Malaysia enabled us with other propagators I trained to produce a huge quantity of quality planting materials to support the Philippine durian commercialization program, leading to the development of a very viable durian industry in Mindanao. My success in corn and durian research got recognized through an Outstanding National Agriculturist Scientist Award from then President Fidel V. Ramos in a ceremony held at Malacañang Palace.
OVERCOMING MAJOR OBSTACLES IN PLANT COLLECTION
There are many obstacles in collecting plants abroad and bringing these in to the Philippines for possible commercial cultivation. It has to be carried out discreetly, sometimes secretly. For example, a month after I received the Outstanding Scientist Award in 1987, I filed a leave of absence from the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) where I was employed. I used my prize money from the award to finance an expedition to the jungles of Northern Malaysia, like the province of Teranganu and Southern Thailand like the province of Narathiwat, with my passport marked “Farmer.” I did a lot of homework by reading many publications before going there – study the fruits being grown, language and customs of the people, farming practices and government regulations on transporting plant and plant parts.
These places, populated largely by the Malay, are also known as the center of the tropical fruit diversity in the whole of Southeast Asia. During my travels, I visited farms where I introduced myself as a farmer wanting to learn fruit farming. Discreetly, I observed the cultivation and performance of the different superior fruit varieties to identify the best. Much of my observations were recorded at night so as not to draw attention to what I was doing.
I introduced myself as a farmer and not as a government official because fruit farmers in these places are wary of government officials from other countries gathering technologies and planting materials. With their fellow farmers from other countries, they are friendlier and more helpful. My little knowledge of Bahasa Malay enabled me to interact with farmers in both countries. The Malay spirit of giving and sharing is abundant in these places, with the key word “sama-sama” as a popular expression. This means we are of the same race so we should help each other.
During several trips I was able to identify superior plant varieties and document the farmers’ best practices in nursery and field production. For example, from Thailand I learned that there are different types of longkong and that the best longkong fruits are produced by trees propagated from a single tree discovered by a farmer while clearing the jungle to plant rice over 200 years ago. When I first visited the tree, I was told by the villagers that I was the first Filipino to have visited the tree. On my return to the country, they offered me scions as send-off gift which I grafted to Jolo lanzones seedlings and planted in my farm. I was privileged to have planted the first few longkong trees from the single original best longkong tree in Thailand is what the Thais proudly label as the sweetest longkong fruits in the world. The trees I have in my farm are now bigger than the mother tree I saw in Thailand.
In recent years, my trees were bearing from 800 to over 1,000 kg of very sweet fruits which are almost seedless. In Malaysia, a retired agriculturist turned highly successful farmer showed me the best duku trees planted at the MARDI Teranganu Research Station. This agriculturist pointed out that these trees produce the best and sweetest duku in the world.
THE DIFFICULTY OF BRINGING IN PLANTS
Bringing in the propagated plants or plant parts like scions to the Philippines is harder than plant collection from the best varieties grown in the best farms in other countries. This is “strictly prohibited” without approved permits from the BPI. At one time I asked a permit from BPI to bring in scions of longkong. The officerin-change refused for too many reasons. The most important reason she advanced was that our local lanzones in the Philippines is already good and so there is no need for bringing in longkong.
I explained the fact that longkong fruits are the sweetest compared to the fruit of our local varieties – Paete, Camiguin, and Jolo. Longkong fruits are almost seedless with longer self-life which enabled Thailand to export to China and other countries. She was not convinced. I learned later that this officer has planted lanzones in a three-hectare farm in Paete, Laguna for her retirement. Creativity and innovation are needed to bring planting materials inside the country. From the jungles of Malaysia, Thailand, and other places, I got propagation materials of hundreds of the best and promising varieties of fruit trees of durian, longkong, duku, and other tropical fruits. For example, I got the sweetest tangerine now being highly commercialized in Malaysia and the seedless guava now highly commercialized in
Thailand and many other kinds of fruits.
My collection was not limited in other countries. Within the Philippines, I travelled to as far as Ilocos Norte, Palawan, Jolo, and Basilan to collect promising plant varieties. I’m confident that after the evaluation, the Magallanes pummelo of the Philippines is the best pummelo in the world. Magallanes pummelo trees produce fruits with peculiar inviting sweetness compared to the other pummelo trees I have observed and collected scions from for propagation in the USA, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
From my plant collection, I was able to multiply rapidly since the late 1980s planting materials of durian, mangosteen, longkong, duku, pummelo and others which are now a part of the Philippine expanded fruit industry. I supplied planting materials to farmers not only in Mindanao but to other farmers in Isabela, Luzon, and Palawan. I also trained other nursery operators to mass produce planting materials.
RECIPROCAL COLLECTION FROM THE PHILIPPINES
In the course of my collection from other countries, I found out that researchers from other countries are carrying out similar collections in the Philippines. Two examples: first is the Philippine macapuno coconut being mass produced through tissue culture in Thailand in wider areas than in the Philippines. One of the entrepreneurs was my fellow student in plant tissue culture at UPLB under the late Dr. Emerita de Guzman.
I learned that after graduation he collected macapuno embryos from Southern Tagalog, multiplied these, and these became the parental source of the mass produced planting materials in the establishment of an island of pure macapuno trees in Thailand. Thailand is now exporting semi-processed macapuno fruits for ice cream to the Philippines.
The second is Philippine coconut hybrid Matag which is now mass produced and cultivated in larger areas in Malaysia than in the Philippines. It is ironic that many Malaysian coconut farmers are benefiting from this hybrid developed by outstanding Filipino scientists using funds from World Bank loan for which Filipino taxpayers are paying. Matag is commercialized on a lesser scale in the Philippines than in Malaysia.
PLANT COLLECTION BY ITSELF IS NOT PROFITABLE
This is a lesson I learned from my son who is now managing our farm. After finishing high school, he wanted to follow his five older siblings to study at UPLB. I discouraged him with a joke: don’t take a course in agriculture if you want to make money in agriculture. You take business management. Many agriculturists like me don’t know how to make money in agriculture.
Returning after his graduation from business management at Ateneo University, I encouraged him to make the farm more productive and profitable. One morning, I saw 50 of my more than 60 durian trees cut and replaced with Monthong, King Kunyit, and Puyat varieties. I asked him why he cut those priced varietal collection. He answered, “Daddy, I’m just following your instruction to make the farm more profitable so I cut those less productive trees and replaced them with the most productive ones.” I remained silent for he was right.
THE SATISFACTION IN PROMOTING FRUIT FARMING
It comes with improving the lives of others, in making many friends, and in contributing to peace. Farmers, professionals, and OCWs come or write to thank us for their high incomes in fruit farming. Their income enabled them to construct better houses, buy quality household appliances, provide better support to children in college, or buy brand new four-wheel vehicles and others.
Two experiences I can’t forget. One time, six years after we launched the durian expansion program funded by PCARRD, Hadji Ponga Usman of Parang, Maguindanao came to my office and told me to come out and see a surprise. He showed me with much pride a brand-new four-wheel pick up he bought from the sales of durian fruits harvested in his five-ha farm which we helped establish. He was so happy that his dream to own a brandnew vehicle came true. I was equally happy.
The second was when I received an invitation from the Chairman of MILF, Hashim Salamat, to visit him in the highly guarded and secluded Camp Abubakar. Afraid that something bad might happen to me, my boss, the USM president, did not sign my Travel Order and discouraged me from going to the camp. However I proceeded.
Meeting the distinguished Muslim leader, he asked me a favor, saying, “Doc, we learned that there many farmers you helped who become progressive in fruit production. Can you also help our poor farmers in Camp Abubakar?” Of course, I helped our Muslim brothers not only in Camp Abubakar but in many places in Mindanao, thanks to the Philippine government, which for more than ten years funded the project under my leadership – HELP MC (Household Enhancement Livelihood Program for Muslim Communities). My contribution is small but it provides satisfaction with the thought that I have done within my capacity to help others become fruit farmers.
PLANTS WAITING FOR COMMERCIALIZATION
Many of my plant collections are still waiting or are in the process of commercialization for high farm yield and income. To mention a few: 1. Seedless sweet guava – I found out that this crop is now commercialized in Thailand and Malaysia. The crop is also well adopted in Mindanao. In Thailand, guava fruits are produced yearround and exported to many countries. It is also highly saleable in Thai domestic markets and being served in high class hotels as highly nutritious and healthful fruit.
2. Sweet tangerine – Fruits known to fruit growers in Davao Region as “Ambassador” produce very sweet juice. Fruits of three to four pieces produces a glass of sweet juice which does not need additional sugar. It now highly commercialized in both Malaysia and Thailand. It performs well as a container crop in the backyard.
3. Vietnam pummelo – Our field trials at TPFN in Kabacan, Cotabato show that both the white and red varieties considered by Vietnam as their best perform well in Mindanao. The plants don’t require so much pesticide spraying as with the Philippine Magallanes pummelo. It is not also so demanding in soil type as required by the Magallanes pummelo. It produces sweet fruits in many types of soil where Magallanes pummelo performs poorly.
4. Pulasan – a native of Northern Malaysia, this fruit is closely related and look similar to rambutan, except that the fruits are bigger and sweeter than rambutan. It is responsive to pruning so it can be maintained dwarf even as container plants. The author noted in recent visit in Singapore that customers prefer the Pulusan over the rambutan fruits.
5. Latexless and sweet jackfruit – We have in our collection from
Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam a variety which is considered as the sweetest jackfruit in the world. Trees of these varieties are early maturing in three years and very prolific producing fruits which are latexless.
6. Nam Duc Mai mango (NDM) – The best variety of NDM in our collection produces fruits which are sweeter than the Philippine Carabao mango. It, however, lacks the acid test which make carabao mango the best in the world. NDM fits the Filipino advertisement “pwede na rin” because NDM requires less spaying to control pest and diseases – three rounds of spray vs. seven round of spray with carabao mango. NDM is responsive to pruning, so the plant can be maintained a dwarf at high density. The trees are highly productive, producing two rounds of fruiting a year as compare to once a year or every two years for carabao mango.
7. Sweet aromatic coconut. Coconut is a fruit commodity when the young nuts and water are used. It’s a plantation crop when the mature nuts are used for copra and coconut oil. The sweet aromatic coconut is the leading coconut variety in the production of coconut for young nuts or meat with refreshing and healthful coconut water. The origin of the best sweet aromatic variety is traced back to a single mutant
coconut tree from the province of Chaisi, Thailand. Many of the so-called “pandan” coconut are inferior in productivity and taste. Both the sweet juice and the sweet aromatic coconut varieties young nuts are highly demanded in the world market particularly in USA, Europe, Singapore, and Australia. This makes the income in the production of young nuts much higher than with copra production.
The trees are dwarf with semi-erect leaves and are planted in Thailand at a population density of 270 plants/ha. Increasing areas is being planted in Malaysia. The trees mature in less than three years and very prolific producing young nuts of over 35,000/ha per year with adequate fertilization. This means that even the young nuts are sold at R10, a farmer can generate an income of R350,000/ ha per year.
A pioneering farm in Lanao del Sur produces and sells young nuts at R50/ nut like “hot cakes” every morning. This farm, however, doesn’t sell planting materials in compliance with their agreement with the source of the original planting materials. We shall make planting materials available in limited quantity in our nursery side by side with asexually propagated plants of durian like King Kunyit, Magallanes pummelo, longkong, Nam Duc Mai mango, and others during the harvest season or fruit festival this year.
It is hoped that current and future researchers and fruit farmers will learn lessons from our experience in plant collection to benefit our farmers.
Fig. 1. Profuse flowering of fruit trees last April up to the present (May): longkong, mangosteen, durian, etc. means abundance of fruits in the market from August to October.
Fig. 2. The author receiving the National Outstanding Agricultural Scientist Award in Malacañang from ex-president Fidel V. Ramos and key DA officials in 1997.
Fig. 3. (Clockwise, from top left) The author with some Filipino fruit farmers during his subsequent visit to over 200 years old original longkong tree in Southern Thailand in 1987. A cluster of longkong fruit of over two kilograms. A fruitful longkong tree at TPFN propagated from the original longkong tree in Thailand. A Thai lady farmer showing the adequately cared for fruits.
Fig. 4. A Duku Teranganu tree at TPFN in Kabacan, Cotabato sourced out from Teranganu, Malaysia, known to produce the sweetest duku fruits.
Fig. 5. Seedless guava trees being mass produced by marcotting at TPFN, Kabacan, Cotabato. The fruits are being sold at the Thai wholesale market at THB20 or equivalent to R35/ kg. Daily, many trucks transport seedless guava fruits from Thailand to Malaysia, Singapore, and other countries.
Fig. 6. A commercial sweet tangerine nursery in Northen Malaysia. The Thai variety was found to be productive at TPFN, Kabacan, Cotabato. The fruits are saleable and affordable. It produces sweet juice for a refreshing drink.
Fig. 7. (From left) The author with two friends in a mechanically pruned pummelo production area in California, USA. Pummelo fruits in the Thailand market. None of our collection from abroad beats the Philippine pummelo in peculiar sweetness. It’s also prolific, producing over 100,000 fruits/ha per season at TPFN.
Fig. 8. (From left) A productive latexless jackfruit at TPFN with fruits starting at the base of the trees. The fruits produced are of medium size and are latexless.
Fig. 10. (Clockwise, from top left) The author beside a highly productive dwarf sweet aromatic coconut of three years old at TPFN. Sold in the 1980s as a sidewalk drink for thirst in Bangkok, the young nuts are now mass produced, mechanically dehusked, and exported to Singapore, Australia, Europe, USA, and others.
Fig. 9. The NDM fruits - very sweet - sweeter than the carabao mango except that it lacks the acid taste which is peculiar to the Philippine mango.