The Manila Bulletin


BURGOS, Ilocos Norte — A decade after the Rare Eagle Forest Marine Agricultural Development (REFMAD) launched its first dragon fruit farm in Barangay Paayas, more idle lots are being converted to better use as dragon fruit plantations have sprouted. Their presence has earned for the province the accolade of being the dragon fruit capital of the Philippines.



It was in 2005 when spouses Rodolfo and Editha Dacuycuy, REFMAD Farm owners, started to grow dragon plant in their backyard in Barangay Poblacion, Pasuquin town, purposely to produce the fruit for their daughter who is a cerebral palsy.

“We were encouraged to plant dragon cactus after a friend who brought a fruit from Macau relayed that it is good for those suffering from frequent constipation, common to cerebral palsy. Indeed it helped our daughter Kate,” she recalled.

Thinking that dragon fruit production should be enhanced for the benefit of more Filipinos especially the aged, Manang Editha started using their 1.5 hectare idle land in Barangay Paayas, in November 2006.

Having no background in agriculture being a Psychology graduate, Manang Editha sent her other daughter Mildred to Thailand to learn from international dragon fruit growers.



The high demand for dragon fruit made the family decide to expand the production. From the backyard, it was expanded to 1.5 hectares and grew to 15 hectares.

“We are happy because we did not expect this. We planted dragon fruit for our daughter until we realized that it can help the elders so we continued planting,” she said.

“Our continuing production of dragon fruit had been a calling because after I had been diagnosed with a deadly disease in 2010, the only thing I asked from the Lord was to extend my life so I can do something not just for my family but for the country,” she added.

To date, Ilocos Norte has 200 hectares of dragon fruit plantations scattered in the 21 towns and 2 cities of the province while REFMAD Farms is presently supervising more than a hundred dragon fruit growers all over the country.

Dacuycuy expressed confidence that dragon fruit production in the country would be more productive, more progressive and globally competitive.

She expressed optimism that they would soon enter the export market.

She disclosed that with the P150 a kilo of fruit, a grower can get back his investment in two years time.

“A pole of dragon cactus could bear at least 20 kilograms of fruit in a year; granting that a grower has 2,000 poles of dragon plant in a one hectare area, at least 40 tons will be harvested in a year,” she explained, adding that it takes one month from flower bud formation before a fruit could be harvested.

The peak season in the province is the months of May until September. But local researchers from the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Batac City had discovered that the use of artificial lighting ulitizing 6-watt Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs or 26-watt compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) helps in the degeneration allowing production on other months.



With the bright prospects seen in dragon fruit production, Manang Editha established a nursery to produce planting materials for those interested to enter the activity. She said REFMAD is willing to help those who want to venture.

To sustain a purely organic supply, she also went into vermiculture for a sufficient organic fertilizer.



Dragon fruit has become a favorite among the Ilocanos, even becoming part of the menu in local hotels and restaurants because of its therapeutic properties, as confirmed by health experts. The fruit contains a high level of anti-oxidants and Vitamin C that prevent formation of cancer cells, helps regulate blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol.

Manang Editha said dragon cactus has “zero waste” as all its parts can be made eaten.

“The unopened buds is good for a delicious fresh salad; the dried flowers can be cooked into lumpiang shanghai or an ingredient for sinigang na baboy or bulalo cooked the traditional way or it can also be processed into delicious dragon balls (meatballs); the fruit skin can be cooked with malunggay leaves or can be processed into jam,” she said.

Cupcakes, ice cream, soap and even wine are other derivative products of dragon fruit.

Dacuycuy in 2011 received a Presidential Award for being the most outstanding high-value commercial crop farmer.

At present, REFMAD farm has seven permanent employees, and 15 part-time; two of whom are persons with disability (PWD).#

“Our income is enough to pay our workers and get us through the day. We are not yet exporting our products but we are really hoping that we will achieve this soon,” she concluded. #