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The promise of Jackfruit

Early last month (July 2016), 20 tons of frozen jackfruit pulp was imported from Vietnam by a trader from Cebu City. Much of the pulp will be made into dried jackfruit by a major fruit processor while smaller portions will be allocated to makers of langka preserves and for halo-halo and turon makers.

Jackfruit Pulp with seeds removed

Jackfruit Pulp with seeds removed

The shipment cost more than $34,000 or about R1.6 million. That’s just one shipment and that is not peanuts. That is still a drain in the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

Why did the businessman have to import jackfruit from Vietnam? Well, it is not difficult to imagine. Where in the Philippines can any trader buy jackfruit pulp by the tons? Jackfruit grows in most parts of the country but there is no place where he can source even just a ton of jackfruit pulp. Buying a hundred kilos here and there is much too expensive a proposition for any big buyer.

The trader had to buy from Vietnam because all he had to do was to negotiate with just one supplier. During our last trip to Vietnam, we were able to visit the processing plant of the supplier to the Cebu trader.  MIT International, the supplier, can ship big volumes of frozen jackfruit to foreign buyers because the company has the stocks available throughout the year.  During our visit to MIT International last March, the company was processing no less than 20 tons of fruits every day.

The jackfruit trees are owned by small farm owners who were encouraged by the government to plant in a big area not far from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City where the processing plant is located.

What can be done in the Philippines so that big volumes of jackfruit for processing can be produced? It is possible to grow jackfruit in many places in the Philippines. It is easier for farmers to grow jackfruit than mango because mango production requires a lot of inputs, particularly pesticides to protect the trees and fruits from destructive pests and diseases.

Clusters of farmers or members of cooperatives in a province or region could be encouraged to plant jackfruit. The government can help in encouraging the production of seedlings of the right varieties like the Eviarc jackfruit from Leyte, the S.R. Obien selection from Ilocos Norte and the latexless jackfruit from Thailand and Malaysia.

Experts from the Department of Agriculture or the academic institutions like UP Los Baños can develop a package of technologies in jackfruit production. Training that includes seminars and lectures can be undertaken. Private investors or the cooperatives can become the buyer, processor, and marketer of jackfruit products. The Department of Agriculture can also facilitate access to low-cost loans for production, processing, and marketing operations.

Farmers in Cebu, Bohol, and Negros Island can plant jackfruit for the big time fruit processors in Cebu City. In Luzon, big areas around the Clark area (including Pampanga, Tarlac, Bataan, and Zambales) can be developed into jackfruit farms by small farmers as well as big investors.

Certainly, there is a ready market for jackfruit that is produced in commercial volume. The problem is that there is no available local supply.