Aside from the world famous Mayon Volcano, the unusual and beautiful white sand beaches and world-class diving spots, the Bicol region is also known for its indigenous crop-the pili.
Most of the pili are produced and processed in the region. It ranks second to cashew nuts and has long been recognized for its economic importance because of its potential in the export market.
There is a growing demand for pili, however the need of the market cannot be met by the growers and processors. This is because of the lack of equipment in post-production and processing operations.
Many of the pili growers are still in the manual operation of harvesting and processing their produce. Thus, they are forced to sell their harvest to traders at very low prices. These traders get most of the benefits.
One of the common observations in the region is the hoarding of pili fruit by some pili traders. These traders buy the pili fruit from March to June when the price is around P150 per kilo. They will store and sell it at P300.
Seeing the downtrodden situation of the pili gowers, the Bicol University College of Agriculture and Forestry (BUCAF) collaborated with the then Bureau of Postharvest Research and Extension (now the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization) for the conduct of benchmark information survey to identify and possibly address the problems of the pili industry in the region.
`We started giving attention to the pili industry when the PHilMech and BUCAF partnered in 1995 for the conduct of the benchmark information survey`, recalls Engr. Arnulfo Malinis, dean of Bicol University Polangui Campus and then research coordinator of BUCAF.
`The two institutions identified the problems confronting the pili industry and what needs to be done. In 1998, we started developing the technologies based on the results of the study,` he added.
The project is a great help to the industry. It gave birth to the development of technologies like the harvester with cutter and collecting net, depulping machine, mechanical pili nut cracker, testa removal machine and oil extractor.
The pili depulping machine has a capacity of 60-70 kg/hr. It has a depulping efficiency of 80-85 percent and run by a 5 horsepower gasoline engine and 1 horsepower electric motor. It has a fuel consumption of 1.36 li/hr. The cost of the technology ranges from P40,000-P48,000.
The mechanical pili nut cracker, on one hand, can crack 204 pieces of pili nut in a minute (117 kg/hr) with a cracking efficiency averaging 93 percent with 89 percent whole kernel recovery.
It has a six-blade cracker powered by a 1 horsepower electric motor. The motor's energy consumption is 0.41 kwhr. One person operates the cracker.
The prototype was tested in Casiguran and Irosin in Sorsogon and Guinobatan, Albay using three major parameters, the cracking capacity, efficiency and economic viability.
The result of the testing revealed that the mechanical pili nut cracker is economically viable. The investment cost of P40, 000 can be recovered after more than one year of using the technology.
`We recognize our partnership with PHilMech. If not for PHilMech we will not be able to identify the needs of the industry. Because of our collaboration, we developed these pili processing technologies,` shares Malinis.
The accredited manufacturer of these technologies is also a Bicolano, Engr. Salvador Albia of Tropics-Agro Industries in Naga City.
After the development of the pili depulping machine and mechanical pili nut cracker, Malinis continuously engaged himself in research and development works to come up with more mechanized technologies for pili.
Recently, Malinis and his team developed the system to produce pili pulp virgin oil, flour and coloring powder from pili.
The 65-70 percent of pili nut fruit is usually discarded as waste. This waste can be converted into useful products like oil, powder and food coloring.
`We can get the oil, coloring powder, and flour from the pili pulp. The pili pulp oil is used for cooking and it is better than olive oil, while the flour is used in making cookies and brownies,` says Engr. Roger Salalima, instructor at the Bicol University Polangui Campus.
Adopting the system designed by Malinis and his group will turn the pili pulp into profit. It can also open new business opportunities for more Bicolanos.
If the Bicol Region has a production of 1,661,517 kg of pili, it can produce 103,014 kg of oil and if sold at P100/kg this amounts to P10.30 million.
For flour, it can produce 101.36 tons and if sold at P20,000/ton, this costs P2.03 million. Also, the said total production can make 66.46 tons of coloring powder equivalent to 1.66 million if sold at P25,000/ton.
Malinis also revealed that pili shell and pulp has many uses. The shell which is the hard coating of pili kernel can be used as fuel, key chain, decor, handicrafts and charcoal briquettes.
On the other hand, the pulp is being used as flour, puree sauce, appetizer, dessert, animal feed, oil for food, lubrication, soap, perfume, and other cosmetic products.
`The industry has been waiting for these technologies. If pili growers can adopt these proper postharvest processing systems, there will be significant increase in the income of the pili growers because this will enable them to develop their own micro-enterprise selling pili products at prices they set,` Malinis said.
Malinis admitted that the industry needs more attention to achieve its full development. He, however, is optimistic that the partnership with the private sector and other government agencies will bring the boost that the pili industry needs to become one of the profitable industries in the country.