Dragon fruit farm originally meant to treat a special needs individual sparks interest in the town of Burgos,



Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp



AS APARENT, seeing your child in discomfort is one of the hardest things to bear. Parental instincts would kick in and emphasize the need to find a solution to ease the child's condition, no matter what the cost. For the mother of a special needs child, Editha Dacuycuy, owner and manager ofREFMAD Farm in Paayas, Burgos, Ilocos Norte, the solution came from the exotic dragon fruit. "My daughter Kaye (who has cerebral palsy) has been the very reason why the family embarked in the dragon fruit industry, [specifically] her problems with constipation, seizures and spasticity. As parents you would also seek the best solutions to your child's health problems," Dacuycuy said. Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain balance as well as posture. In search of a solution for Kaye's concerns, a friend recommended the dragon fruit to Dacuycuy, who as a parent, was willing to try almost anything if it would help ease her child's problems. "We tried it on her, and indeed it worked like magic. In a few minutes, she moved and was relieved. Not only has her constipation been addressed, but has also minimized her seizures and spasticity," Dacuycuy said. Seeing the positive results on Kaye, the family developed the farm in Burgos, Ilocos Norte to cater not only for their daughter. Eventually, they began to broaden the farm's purpose by meeting market demands as well as encouraging others to grow dragon fruits as well. FROM AN OTOP TOWN TO ADRAGON FRUIT CAPITAL Established on November 6, 2016, REFMAD Farm began with around 900 posts of dragon fruit trees in the area. "At first, it was just intended for the personal consumption of the family, immediate friends, and relatives. But upon realizing the benefits the fruit provides, we decided to expand to accommodate the initial demand," Dacuycuy said. They even went far as to encourage the people in their town to start growing dragon fruits as well. The farm distributed planting materials to every household in the barangays. Because ofREFMAD Farm, the town of Burgos slowly adopted the dragon fruit as their main product, thus making them qualified for the OTOP (one town, one product) program of the Department of Trade and Industry which promotes goods and products of Filipino towns, cities, and regions, and provides funding for small businesses. Dacuycuy has had a passion for gardening ever since she was a child, and by finishing her secondary education in an agricultural college she came to love agriculture all the more. After her success in Burgos, she decided to share the benefits of growing dragon fruit in her region so that others can enjoy an additional source of income and livelihood. Together with the Ilocos Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium (ILLARRDEC), Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), and the Department of Agriculture (DA), Dacuycuy promoted the industry in Ilocos Norte. "It was a successful endeavor as most barangays, towns, and schools adopted the industry, thus making Ilocos Norte the ' Dragon fruit Capital' [ of the country]," Dacuycuy said. She added that the farm has inspired other towns and provinces to embark in growing dragon fruit. To help farmers, REFMAD Farm provides briefings, seminars, and also conferences on how to develop and grow dragon fruit. With more people coming to either learn about dragon fruit farming or just enjoy being surrounded by nature, Dacuycuy decided to improve the farm and add in some farm tourism elements to make her guests feel welcome and comfortable. "As a farm tourism destination, REFMAD farm is a place where guests can enjoy fresh air, the farm life, and dragon fruit products. We have cottages and duplex accommodations for bed and breakfast, a fishpond with colored tilapia to entertain kids, and a swimming pool to dip in to complete their overnight stay," Dacuycuy said. What started as a journey to solve her daughter's health needs became a crusade that transformed the Ilocos Norte region into a dragon fruit farming area. And for her efforts, Dacuycuy earned the title of Dragon Fruit Queen as she has helped many find a source of livelihood to augment their income. FARMING PRACTICES According to Dacuycuy, they grew dragon fruits by selecting matured cuttings which are then planted around installed posts which serve as the anchor of the dragon cactus since it has a vinelike characteristic. "Cacti, just like any other plant, needs TLC (tender, loving care). It needs to be watered, fertilized, sanitized, and the stems need to be properly secured for it to hold on to the post," the Dragon fruit Queen said. REFMAD Farm practices natural farming. They apply natural farm inputs such as vermicast, vermicompost, chicken dung, and animal manure. "30 percent of fertilizer is inorganic for immediate effect as a plant start-up. Fruits and vegetable concoctions are also formulated to serve as foliar spray and pesticides," Dacuycuy shared.