A government-run institution is eyeing anti-cancer flavonoids and tannin content in a P1.654 million project on indigenous Batanes fruit “Arius” whose juice and wine are now at pre-commercial distribution stage.

Batanes State College (BSC) has already come up with different products from arius—jam, pastillas, tart, wine, juice, and tea.

“But we’re now looking at the medical side of the products,” said BSC Research and Development Director Roger G. Baltazar.

The project to discover the medical properties of Arius will be financed by under the Technology Commercialization Program of Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

“We already received in the first week of September the initial P1 million release from DA-BAR,” said Baltazar.

Unique to Philippines’ northernmost province Batanes, Arius– also known as the Batanes fruit, Batanes berry, or Batanes pine—grows too in mainland Luzon. But it does not fruit in Luzon nor in other areas outside of Batanes.

BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar said BAR commits to coming up with an excellent product, primarily juice and wine, for Arius through linkage between BSC and other centers of excellence in product development.

BAR is linking BSC with food technology experts on wine and juice production at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) under the program called “Processing Technology Development and Utilization for Organically Grown Arius Fruits in Batanes.”

. UPLB is expected to assist BSC in the acquisition of equipment, product taste improvement and testing, food analysis, and in quality control.

Despite limitations, BSC has developed its initial products by just using equipment that are available in the school and those found in common households. These are utensils, casserole, and pails with cover as fermenting material.

BSC is still in its infancy, created only in 2004. It does not have sufficient funding, but its wealth must be in the passion of its people to develop an industry from its endemic fruit.

“When BAR’s evaluators came to our processing center, they said we had to improve on our facilities. With the funding of BAR, we’ll go for more sophisticated materials. So we’ll also have better quality products that can be marketable,” he said.

Its new laboratory would require stainless equipment, funnels, trays, pH meter, pipet, dipper, heavy duty blender, cooking vats of 32 liter capacity, fermenting jars, vacuum sealers, blower sealer, wine kit, ebollumeter, refractometer, stainless working table, juicer, grinder, heavy duty burner, gas tank (LPG), and LPG refill.

Income generating potential

BSC expects the Arius program to become livelihood-generating.

“It’s very promising because our initial costing in wine shows that from eight kilos of Arius, you can earn a net of not less than P5,000 when converted into wine,” said Baltazar.

BSC buys the fruit at P15 per kilo. It sells a 375 ML (milliliter) bottle at P80 and at P100 per bottle for the one with cloth gift wrapper. One tree could yield 20 to 30 kilos of Arius, so going into mass production will not be a problem with supply abundance.

Batanes people virtually ignore these fruits that decay under their trees because of their abundance. People just really plant the Arius to beautify their lawns. They come up with sculpted trees from it for landscaping.

They plant the trees in their church yards, along highways, on school grounds, and in government properties. Itbayat is the biggest island in Batanes group of islands where Arius is widely grown along the cliff in this island.

“With the products that would be developed, people would treasure the fruits. Later on it will be attractive for livelihood. We will train housewives, and with the knowledge on ROI (return on investment), I think they will readily accept it,” Baltazar said.

Batanes’s native people who love their beautiful land should encourage increased consumption of the products.

“Whenever one goes home, an Ivatan would always say ‘Bring me back an Arius wine or pastillas.’ That should encourage Ivatans to go into manufacturing Arius products.”

BSC is soon tapping the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to do the nutrient analysis.

Part of BAR’s funding is for P100,000 for food analysis. The product will also go through DOST’s regional standards and testing laboratory. BSC will likewise determine occurrence of toxic microorganisms in the products and shelf life.

Flavonoids and tannins

An interesting work of BSC in Arius is to find out its antioxidant and anti-aging properties.

“Because of the flavonoid and tannin content, we’re looking at its medicinal nature. There’s antioxidant, and there must be anti-cancer properties,” said Baltazar.

Flavonoids, widely distributed in plants and accounts for pigments in flowers that attract insects in pollination, functions as inhibitors in cell cycle, thus their property in blocking cancer cell multiplication. Flavonoids also block activities leading to diseases in plants.

It is indicated that flavonoids may alter “allergens, viruses, and carcinogens.”

Tannins, found commonly in tea and wine, potentially have antibacterial, antiviral effects and are believed to be capable of protecting the kidneys. At a high content as found in red grape juice and red wine, it may fight viruses like poliovirus and enteric viruses.

Tannins from the stem bark of a plant called “myracrondruon urundeuva” may be a therapy for some patients with neurological disease with its strong antioxidant property.

Visitors have the initial impression of good taste of the Arius products.

“It’s still in experimental stage, so volume is still small. But the BAR program will enable us to come up with several mixtures of materials for the wine and other products,” he said.

At present, BSC is just able to sell the products when there are trade fairs like the Batanes Day and BAR’s Techno Forum.

Batanes natives send the products to their relatives abroad.

“They’re so proud to send them overseas. Our mayor in Uyugan, Oliva Blackburn, sent two bottles to relatives in the States after tasting it,” he said.

“We haven’t brought out the technology yet because it has not been perfected. But the acceptability of the product to the community is very high. But we need to further refine it. They love to buy the products, more so if they know it’s medicinal.”

Arius harvest

Arius is harvested from late July up to early October. The limited harvest period should be maximized.

The fruits are easy to harvest with their shoulder-level height, so people will enjoy fruit picking. Ecotourism can thrive with such fruit-picking activity and could enhance Batanes’s reputation as a rare tourist area that’s rich in cultural and historical values.

BSC took it upon Arius’s abundant supply when it started experimenting on product development.

The first product it made was the jam, and then pastillas. And then BSC people thought if it is possible to make it into jam and pastillas, maybe making it into a wine would do too.

“We formulated the initial mixture and then after two weeks, we tasted it and examined for fermentation. We then found out it already had an alcohol taste. That triggered us to do more research,” said Baltazar.

Batanes is conducive to fruit production with its average rainy days of 22 days a month at a length of 10 to 30 minutes daily, similar to how it usually rains daily in Mindanao, Philippines’ fruit basket.

The winds, though, has an adverse effect on most fruits. Batanes also has other fruits–mangoes, avocado, and santol. But these do not bear fruit as much as they do in Luzon because bee pollinators couldn’t be as effective in Batanes due to the strong wind, explained Baltazar.

Local government partnership

BAR, DA, and the private sector could partner with local government units (LGU) in Batanes that have been supportive of livelihood programs to the extent that they push even senior citizens to train in small businesses.

Batanes has zero population growth with 18,000 people. Yet, BSC boasts that there can be capital-rich Batanes natives who are investing in the province’s tourism and various businesses.

They may be able to invest too in Arius once BAR’s research and development work thrives .

And helping some local residents with a capital of just P10,000 per group is already more than enough to start a home-based manufacturing business in Batanes, Baltazar said.

For any questions, please contact Dr. Roger G. Baltazar, 0939-919-3613; for interview requests, 0920-715-7186.

Source: Bureau of Agri ResearchQC