THE International Tropical Fruits Network (TFNet) revealed that for the past decades, global demand for tropical fruits is increasing as more consumers seek healthier food options.

"Although current tropical fruit exports are only about 10 percent of the total production, export numbers are projected to increase and meet rising demand," said Mohd Desa Hassim, chief executive officer of the TFNet.

Speaking during the recently concluded International Symposium on Tropical Fruits (ITFS) held in Davao City, Hassim said tropical fruits is an important food group which contributes up to 50 percent of micronutrients intake in developing countries.

"In addition to conventional nutrients, they also have bioactive compounds with purported benefits such as improved intelligence, prevention of diseases, and longer life," he added.

Larry Miculob of the Davao Durian Industry Council confirms that there is indeed a growing demand of tropical fruits particularly durian in the global market.

"There is a high demand of durian in countries like China, Singapore, and Hong Kong and lately in Russia and Australia," Miculob said.

Miculob said Russia's demand for durian is around 50-150 tons per month of frozen durian. He stressed that for durian to have a prolonged shelf life of at least two years, must be vacuum packed and subjected to blast freezing technology.

"There is a need to expand durian production areas to address this growing demand. Meanwhile, the durian council urges all growers to unite in order to consolidate production and take advantage of this global demand," Miculob said.

A leading banana company in the region is also expecting to bounce back this year and next year given the improved weather conditions and their new irrigation systems.

Alexis Cantil, vice president for operations of the Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco) in a press statement said they are eyeing to ship 32-million boxes or 432,000 metric tons of Cavendish bananas in 2017 from the expected 30.9-million exports or 417,000 metric tons this year.

Tadeco, the world's largest contiguous banana plantations is engaged in the production and export of Cavendish bananas to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Middle East, Russia, Malaysia and Singapore. The company is also considering new markets such as the US.

Manitra Rakotoarisoa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) said tropical fruits have the great potential to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition around the world.

"The fruits in the Philippines [especially those that] will be exported generate jobs and where it can reach, will provide nutrition for the consumers," Rakotoarisoa said.

"While the demand for tropical fruits industry is rising, it is also threatened by various problems such as environmental degradation, climate changes, and plant diseases. Trade in tropical fruits still faces traffic and non-tariff barriers undermining the industry's efforts to expand trade volume and revenue," he said.

He urged the TFNet as the leading global player to facilitate international cooperation in production, consumption, logistics, marketing and trade development in the global tropical fruits sector.

The Philippines - Department of Agriculture (DA) also underscored the imperative role of the tropical fruits in achieving the new administration's mandate of food security and earning revenues through promotion of high-value crops.

Evelyn Laviña, DA undersecretary for agribusiness and high-value crops said that for the tropical fruits sector to address challenges of competitive global market, it must remain abreast of the latest trends in production.

"We encourage our local fruit growers to observe good [agricultural] practices to sustain production. DA is one with you in sustaining the growth of the industry," Laviña said.

The TFNet, DA-Bureau of Plant Industry, and the Philippine Fruit Association, organized last week's 3-day ISTF with the theme “Towards sustainable fruit production and global food security."

Around 300 participants coming from 17 countries: Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Sudan, India, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Fiji, Australia, Germany, Nicaragua, Madagascar, and the Philippines.