The King Durian (still) reigns mighty

For Dabawenyos, Kadayawan sa Davao festival is almost synonymous to Davao’s durian. 

Tagged the King of Fruits, it is a popular crowd drawer of the festival.

Most local and foreign tourists who come not only during Kadayawan sa Davao bring home the durian, may it fresh, semi-processed, candies, bars, chips, or pastries. 

From the usual high income due to popularity of the fruit, durian traders and growers are now struggling to find a market for durian as fewer people are going out and social gatherings are still banned and discouraged while the city is under the so-called period of mourning until 2021. This is the reason why some durian growers in Davao City are taking their durian harvests elsewhere. 

Candelario “Larry” Miculob, former president of Davao City Durian Industry Council (DCDIC), said some growers opted to take the risk of exploring other areas to sell durian because they are concerned that the fruits might just rot. 

Although, agricultural products are exempt from quarantine restrictions to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, Miculob said they are limited by available land transport services and flights, which added to the drop of the industry’s sales following the April and May harvest due to the plunge in domestic demand. 

Emmanuel Belviz, president of DICDC, said in preparation for the peak season next month and to help the Durian growers, the Durian council through the coordination of the Department of Agriculture 11 (DA 11) has tapped freight forwarding service Cargo King, which provided them with special rates to deliver 15 tons of fresh Durian per day to Manila starting September this year. 

“Para hindi mahirapan yung cargo, ang mga traders sila yung mag-collect ng mga durian. Yung mga small farmers wala kasing capacity mag-padala ng fruits,” Belviz said in an interview. 

The council has around 50 members and each member is handling small farmers (backyard) wherein some have 10 Durian trees. Members span around Davao City, Toril and Calinan, and other areas in Davao Region. 
In terms of volume of harvest, small farmers can generate around seven tons per hectare while big farms yield 15 tons to 20 tons per hectare in Davao City. 

“Mas maraming harvest ngayong season kaysa last season. Peak season is around mid-September to late September. Last year medyo maaga ang peak season kaya mga late August last year marami na tayong Durian,” Belviz said. 

In Davao Region, Durian growers typically harvest up to 48 metric tons each season.

The future is in export

The plunge in domestic demand is among the reasons for the council’s continued push for the government to have Durian included in the bilateral trade deal with China. The growers have been pushing for this since 2016. 
The accreditation of the Philippine Durian to China will enable Durian traders and growers to export to China. 

“We are advocating of strengthening exportation of Durian,” Belviz said. 
Chinese Inspection and Quarantine supposedly will conduct inspection in April this year, however, was not materialized due to the pandemic.“Nung April sana mag-punta yung mga Chinese to inspect in relation to the bilateral talks. Pero nagka-Covid man sa ilaha, it was move to August. Pero kita na pud nagka-Covid,” Belviz said. 

He said in his last communication with the agriculture attache of China, the inspection is re-scheduled next year.

The inspection aims to validate farms in Davao Region as Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certified farms. It is a certification system for agriculture, specifying procedures that must be implemented to create food for consumers. 

Durian growers and exporters have been finding ways to meet Chinese demand for frozen durian after Chinese traders were in town in May 2018 and wanted more frozen durian than what was available.
What is more interesting the Chinese traders did not set a limit for the quantity. 

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, nag-karoon kami ng training with some durian farmers and members of the durian council on the importance of making their farms GAP certified,” Belviz said. 

The accreditation will also open the door for foreign investors to set up more processing plants in Davao Region.

Neighboring Asian countries like Malaysia has received accreditation for frozen durian to China only last year.

Durian in the USA

The difficulty in moving the products due to lockdowns and quarantine protocols implemented has also delayed exportation of frozen Durian to the US. 

The King of Fruits has also penetrated the United States market since last year through an American blogger who dabbles as food importer, Lindsey Gasik.

Gasik, a blogger from Oregon whose interest is to tour Asia to taste different varieties of durian, has exported an initial 300 kilos of vacuum packed frozen Durian in October last year.

Belviz said in her talk with Gasik, he said the blogger is planning to export durian varieties Puyat, Duyaya, and either GD 69 or Nanam this year. 

“Pinag-pipilian pa niya. Ang last na usapan namin this September mag-padala kami ng fruits to sir Larry (Miculob). Hindi pa ganoon kadami,” he said.

Miculob has a processing plant and has the capacity to make frozen packs from the fresh produce. 

Durian growers and traders has the opportunity to expand their market as Gasik is planning to expand her export to  Germany and Australia for the frozen durian. 

Durian caravan

The gloomy industry does not despair the durian traders and growers in Davao Region. 

Although, the details are not in yet, but they are full of hope with the program “Tienda” by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).  

“Meron din kaming ginagawa in the pipeline yung with MinDA through “Tienda” pero hindi pa final ang details. It is like a durian caravan. The itinerary is not yet final but more or less, parang Mindanao tapos dadaan yung mga trucks in Visayas tapos ihulog ang mga durian fruits hanggang Manila” Belviz said. 

New normal

The wishlist of the farmers and traders this time of pandemic is to move their products and continue generating income especially now that domestic market is not spending too much on Durian for the fear of going out and the city is not accepting tourists yet.

“Sa operation sa farms, hindi masyadong mahirap dahil hindi ganoon ang kadami ng tao pero medyo nagka-karoon kami ng challenge in the marketing because pag Durian tourist ang main market and since walang tourist at walang festival ang strategy namin ngayon ay mapadala namin ang fruits sa Manila,” Belviz said. 

Yet, they remain optimistic that all their “want” list such as establishment of more processing plants, cracking the China-market and other international markets, and easing of more restrictions in travels and flights , will be realized to make the Durian industry as pungent as before.

“Hopefully, next year wala na itong Covid at maka continue na tayo at para mas mabilis na ang magpalabas ng Durian,” he said.