Growing pili nut for export

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Sunday, November 14, 2010


"PILI nuts possess the characteristics to become among our country's most valuable export commodity. Categorically, they can compete with cashew, almond, and macadamia in terms of texture, taste, and extracted micronutrient yield."

That statement comes from a study conducted by a team of biotechnologists, who urged the current administration to support the pili industry.

"Despite the recorded growth in the production of pili from 1990 through 2008, the industry, as a whole, remains risk-averse, conflict-ridden and growth-stagnant," the study added.

Although pili is also grown in other tropical countries of Asia like Malaysia and Indonesia, only the Philippines produces and processes pili nuts commercially. In 1977, the country exported approximately 3.8 tons of pili preparation to Guam and Australia.

Before World War II, pili nuts were exported to Hawaii, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan, according to the Plant Industry Digest published in 1970.

In recent years, the largest buyers of pili nuts from the Philippines are people from Hong Kong and Taiwan as the nut is one of the major ingredients in the famous Chinese festive dessert known as the "moon cake."

The United States is still an untapped market. US imports millions of kilos of shelled walnuts and almonds a year. If the Philippines would produce high-quality pili nuts, there is a tendency that Americans would be encouraged to consider importing some from the country.

While pili nut is native to the Philippines, there is no commercial planting of the crop. Fruits are collected from natural stands in the mountains near those so-called "production centers" like Bicol (particularly Sorsogon, Albay, and Camarines Sur), Southern Tagalog, Eastern and Western Visayas, Southern Mindanao, and Caraga.

The most important product from pili is the kernel. When raw, it resembles the flavor of roasted pumpkin seed, and when roasted, its mild, nutty flavor and tender-crispy texture is superior to that of the almond.

In early days, emulsion from crushed kernels was used by the natives as substitute for infant's milk.

The kernel is so luscious, described as a cross between a macadamia nut and a marcona almond that is used in chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods. Nutritionists claim the kernel is high in calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Pili nut is rich in fats and protein. Scientists from the University of Guelph in Canada reported that proteins in pili are as important as the proteins found in commercially important oilseeds.

Among the entire world's nut, pili reigns supreme in oil content, over 70 percent. The pulp oil, highly prized for its lanoline content -- can be extracted and used for cooking or as a substitute for cotton seed oil in the manufacture of soap and edible products.

"Chemical and nutritional analyses of pili pulp oil are very similar to olive oil," the Department of Science and Technology reported. "However, pili pulp oil has more beta-carotene, a known vitamin A source, and carotenoids, which makes it more nutritious than olive oil."

It's no wonder why in Bicol and other parts of the country, the pili pulp oil is used in treating skin diseases such as scabies and de-worming capability for livestock such as pigs and chicken.

Now, are you ready to plant pili in your farm? Here are some tips from the Department of Agriculture:

Propagation. Generally, it is propagated by seeds. Seeds for planting should be selected from newly harvested fruits. Seeds with fermented or decayed pulp should be avoided.

However, asexual methods of propagation, such as cleft grafting and inarching, are preferred for cultivating high yielding mother trees. Grafting is usually done in November to February. The success rate range between 50 to 80 percent, depending on the physiological state of mother trees and the propagator's skill.

Nursery management. A fairly level area is selected for the seedbed. Plots, one meters wide of any length even up to five meters, are prepared. The soil is pulverized and leveled. Compost or saw dust may be incorporated with the soil.

The seeds are sown in parallel lines spaced about 2-3 inches apart. The seeds are planted vertically upwards with the tapered end at the top. Watering is employed whenever necessary.

The seedlings are transplanted in plastic bags (5 x 7 centimeters) consisting of two parts garden soil and one part compost or coir dust. The seedbed is watered before the seedlings are pulled singly. Pulling should be aided by a wedge to prevent injury to the root system.

Seedlings are ready for transplanting as soon as the pair of leaves with the cotyledon is developed. This occurs from 30-45 days after seed sowing.

Land preparation. The land is plowed and harrowed once. If planting under coconut trees, the rows are cleared by removing tree stumps. Stakes are placed to make planting of either 10 meters x 10 meters or 12 meters x 12 meters. Holes approximately six inches deep and 6 centimeters wide are prepared for planting seedlings.

Planting. Only seedlings with stem diameter of about pencil size are planted. Two seedlings are planted 30 to 40 centimeters apart per hill. Other seedlings are removed when trees start to bear; only female trees must be left. A few male trees are only retained as sources of pollen.

Fertilization. About 100-150 grams of nitrogen fertilizer per hill are applied at least twice a year after ring weeding and within the first three years after planting. Complete fertilizer (14-14-14) is applied from the fourth year onward. If possible, organic fertilizer may also be applied.

Intercropping. In open-upland orchards, intercropping with cash crops like upland rice, corn, mung bean, peanut, yellow squash, or tomato may be done while the pili is still young. This will ensure clean culture, while giving the farmer some income to help maintenance expenses. After the fifth year, a perennial intercrop like coffee, cacao, black pepper or pineapple may be planted as companion crops.

Harvesting. Matured nuts (when fruits turn green to dark purple) are harvested by priming. This is usually done from May to October. However, some pili fruits do not develop at the same time. The leftovers after the harvest season mature at different stages. Flower initiation on the different terminal buds occur at different periods so that the late ones are harvested outside the harvest season.

Most pili kernels tend to stick to the shell when fresh, but come off easily after being dried to 3-5 percent moisture. Shelled nuts, with a moisture content of 2.5 to 4.6 percent, can be stored in the shade for one year without deterioration of quality.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 15, 2010.

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