‘Dragon Lady’ enjoys fruits of her labor
Organic farming success story is still growing
Around six-years ago, a friend from Macau recommended Dacuycuy try dragon fruit to help relieve her daughter Kate’s frequent constipation, which is common among cerebral palsy patients. After witnessing positive results, the close-knit family decided to grow the fruit in their backyard.
That decision has been turned into a modern-day success story.
“It was beyond our expectations that we would achieve this much, but thanks to God, He made all things possible,” said Dacuycuy, brimming with confidence as she walked the red carpet at Malacanang Palace on Monday to receive a presidential trophy, a citation and check worth 100,000 pesos (US$2,325) for being this year’s most outstanding commercial crop farmer.
The former insurance company manager and psychology graduate from the University of the Philippines never thought what started out as a hobby would see her become known as the “Dragon Lady” of the northern Philippines.
Laoag diocese’s Social Action Center is helping Dacuycuy’s venture into organic farming. At her farm, the “Dragon Lady” observes zero-waste management farming advocated by the diocese. She makes sure that all farm waste is turned into organic fertilizer.
“We originally only thought of the benefits dragon fruit had for Kate,” she said.
But when they started trying to grow their own fruit in their backyard in Poblacion 2, Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte, things took an unexpected turn.
When asked by neighbors what we were growing, “we didn’t tell them it was dragon fruit because we were unsure if our efforts would really bear fruit,” said Dacuycuy.
The internet served as Dacuycuy’s library. She discovered that dragon fruit is rich in fiber and contains high levels of vitamin C, calcium and phosphorous. It also has other properties such as high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, ease high blood pressure, rheumatism and urinary tract infections.
Leraning this, she sent another daughter to meet with dragon fruit growers in Thailand to learn more about how dragon fruit is cultivated.
Popular in South America, dragon fruit is also grown in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“There are only a few countries that grow it,” said Dacuycuy. Luckily, the Philippines has a tropical climate well suited for dragon-fruit growing, she added.
Seeing the first fruits ripen successfully in their backyard inspired the family to cultivate more. But before they went large scale, they 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.
The result was the first organic dragon fruit plantation in the northern Philippines — REFMAD Farms, located in Paayas village, Burgos, Ilocos Norte, about 550 kilometers north of Manila – which has expanded to about 10 hectares and is still growing.
In 2009, Dacuycuy made more than 21 million pesos from dragon fruit cultivation and products – fresh fruit and processed food products (e.g. dragon fruit ice cream, macaroons, cookies, jam, cakes etc.) – and other crops like tomatoes and papaya. She is also making money selling organic fertilizer.
To maximize dragon fruit’s potential as a vine of life Dacuycuy envisions establishing a dragon fruit winery which would require another 50 hectares or more of land.
This growth has also inspired her to see the fruit more readily available in the Philippines, which is why she formed the Association of Dragon Fruit Growers of the Philippines where she readily shares her technology and assists growers interested in farming the plant. Every year, the family hands out free saplings to visitors to their farm.
“We hope every home will have a dragon fruit plant in the backyard, because it really is a good fruit,” Dacuycuy said.
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