By RALPH LAUREN ABAINZA
Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is a tropical fruit distinguished by its spiky, tough skin and sour to sweet flesh. It is packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and other helpful compounds that provide a variety of health benefits.
Though pineapples started as a very rare commodity in the 17th century, they are currently being cultivated in many tropical and subtropical countries across the globe, with the Philippines being one of the top producers in the world.
During the Usapang Agribiz: Virtual Agribusiness Opportunities Forum on Pineapple conducted by the Department of Agriculture - Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service (DA-AMAS) last December 6, 2022, industry and government experts shared some insights on the Philippine pineapple industry.
Weambard International Technology Inc. Managing Director and Co-owner Ronnie Arko shared some of his insights about his experience with the local pineapple industry:
Tips on pineapple farming and processing
Like with any other type of crop, those who want to venture into pineapple farming should first consult agriculture experts on what varieties are suitable in their area. Arko shared that there are five common varieties grown in the Philippines: MD2, Formosa, Queen, Cayenne, and Hawaiian. MD2 is commonly grown in highland areas in Mindanao, while Hawaiian is commonly grown in the highland areas in Cavite. Based on his experience, the MD2 variety has the highest value and demand in the market right now.
Despite the alluring demand, Arko cautioned farmers to ensure geographical and climate suitability before trying to grow a certain pineapple variety in their area. In his example, he shared that the MD2 pineapples grown in Isabela (Northern Luzon) had different characteristics than the benchmark MD2 grown in Bukidnon (Mindanao).
For those who are interested in pineapple product processing, Arko advised checking the market demands first before investing in certain products. He shared that in the Philippines, the public typically buys and consumes pineapple fruits as is. However, there is already a wide range of pineapple products that interested investors can venture into.
Export and industrial market demands are typically inclined toward processing pineapples into frozen chunks, powders, juices, purees, and concentrates. Local markets are inclined toward pineapple-based candies, jams, and pastries.
From halal certification to Food and Drug Administration registrations, Arko highlighted the need to obtain more than the legally-required permits and certifications to tap much larger markets. He shared that the international market is very keen on checking product certifications.
Aside from certifications, he also shared the importance of registering the product and processes in the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). This will protect the product branding and the technological innovations developed in the course of the business.
Challenges bugging the local pineapple industry
Arko shared that one of the common problems pineapple growers face is high farm input costs, especially since most of the supplies needed are imported.
High labor costs and a lack of skilled farm and production workers also hinder the full development of the pineapple industry in the Philippines, according to Arko. This problem is also being aggravated by aging farmers and the youth's lack of interest in farming.
Lastly, he shared that ultimately, the lack of affordable and accessible financial support hampers smallholder pineapple farmers from realizing their plans. From capital investments to market coordination, the problem with missing links made it much harder for farmers to navigate the pineapple market potential. Arko shared that while farmers are asking where to sell their produce, the manufacturers, on the other hand, are saying that they do not have enough supply.
Some recommendations to maximize the growth of the local pineapple industry
Arko shared the need to bridge the gap between producers and manufacturers through industry networking and communication systems. Government institutions should also lead other stakeholders in creating sustainable product development pipelines to maximize the potential of pineapples in the local market.
To address the looming problem of lack of skills and youth's disinterest, he recommended strengthening local agriculture education and popularizing youth entrepreneurship programs. Industry players can also collaborate and engage in a "Big Brother Program" wherein established groups can mentor or coach budding agripreneurs or farmers.
In the end, he shared that the core of developing the local pineapple industry lies in making market connections efficient. "We have to attract investors with new technology that will improve our manufacturing and packaging industries. The Philippines has a lot of raw materials, so we just need to connect investments on manufacturing and packaging to make our products innovative and beneficial for the Filipinos," he shared in Tag-lish.
You can watch the webinar here.