By Leilanie Adriano, VERA Files
When Edita Aguinaldo-Dacuycuy first held a dragon fruit, it was for a cure of her daughter Kate, who is afflicted with cerebral palsy.
Never did she imagine that the scaly bright pink fruit that reminded some of a dragon would also bring her fortune and honor.
Last May 23, the 66-year-old mother of four was in Malacanang to receive her presidential award as this year's most outstanding high-value commercial crop farmer. The award came with P100,000 prize.
"We only thought of the benefit of the dragon fruit, which we have proven effective to our daughter Kate," said the former manager of an insurance company and a graduate of Psychology at the University of the Philippines in Dalian, Quezon City
Dacuycuy said her first dragon fruit came from a friend who came from Macau who has heard of the fruit as good for those suffering from frequent constipation problem, common among cerebral palsy patients.
After seeing the dragon fruit doing wonders for Kate's bowel movement problems, the Dacuycuy family planted the vine orchid cactus in their backyard in Poblacion 2, Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte about six years ago.
She recalled that when asked by neighbors what they were doing, they never told them they were planting dragon fruit.
"We were not sure then if what we were planting would really bear fruit," Dacuycuy said. "Others may laugh at us once they know that what we were doing is simply a trial and error."
The internet served as Dacuycuy's main library. She learned that the exotic dragon fruit is rich in fiber that helps in the elimination of wastes. It contains high levels of vitamin C, calcium and phosphorous, including other nutritional benefits such as high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, high blood pressure, rheumatism and urinary tract infection.
She then sent her daughter to meet with international dragon fruit growers in Thailand to learn how to cultivate dragon fruit. Dragon fruit is popularly known in South America. It is also being cultivated in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan.
It gave the whole family so much joy when the cactus vine started flowering and bearing fruits. It inspired them to plant more dragon fruits.
But before they went large-scale, they first consulted agriculture experts from the Department of Agriculture and other government research agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology and the Mariano Marcos State University.
Now, the Dacuycuy-owned REFMAD Farms in barangay Paayas, Burgos, Ilocos Norte, the first organic dragon fruit plantation in northern Philippines owned has expanded to about 10 hectares and is still expanding.
In 2009, REFMAD Farms posted a total net income of more than P21 million from dragon fruit production, both from the sale of fresh fruits and planting materials, processed food products (e.g., dragon fruit ice cream, shanghai, macaroons, cookies, red wine, jam, cake, burger patties, etc.. It is also into tomato and papaya production.
Dacuycuy is also into organic fertilizer production.
At the farm, the hands-on dragon lady farmer observes zero-waste management farming. She makes sure that all farm wastes are turned into organic fertilizer. This is done with vermiculture technology in which she maintains a more than 30-kilo African night crawler to produce organic fertilizer that ensures sustainable growth of the dragon fruit cactus.
To maximize the potentials of dragon fruit as the vine of life, Dacuycuy envisions to build a dragon fruit plant winery which would require about 50 or more hectares of dragon fruit plantation.
Towards this goal, she has initiated the formation of the Association of Dragon Fruit Growers of the Philippines where she readily shares her technology and assists interested growers to engage in dragon fruit farming.
Every year, the family is giving out free dragon fruit saplings for their visitors and neighbors who go to their farm.
"We hope that every home will have a dragon fruit plant in their backyard even just for their family consumption because it is really a good fruit," she said.
Right now, the REFMAD Farms assists other farm-cooperators setting up other dragon fruit plantations in neighboring provinces like Cagayan, Isabela, and Ilocos Sur.
Dacuycuy said there are only few countries cultivating dragon fruit and the Philippines is lucky to have a tropical weather that is suitable for it even in this time of climate change.
"We started this for the good of our special daughter and we want to share this success to everyone," the dragon fruit lady beamed with a smile.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")