AS we earnestly search for and validate indigenous products with potential to help speed up our economic recovery, there is the versatile pili nut waiting to be cracked for domestic and global markets.
I am tempted to believe that had there been a pili tree in the Garden of Eden, the wondrous pili nut, not the apple, could have made Adam and Eve man and woman. Perhaps, the nutritious and delicious pili nut and the prolific pili tree could have sustained paradise with abundance and productivity.
The pili tree is indigenous to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia’s Northern Territories. But it is in the Philippines, more particularly in the fertile volcanic soils of Bicolandia, where it is grown commercially. The Department of Trade and Industry reports that “the Philippines is the only country capable of the commercial production and processing of pili-based food and by-products, with Bicol supplying 80% of the total output volume.”
The pili nut is the veritable “King of Nuts”. It is better in nutrients, texture, and delicacy to macadamia, pistachio, almond, and other internationally known nuts, even as the other nuts are packaged more attractively and marketed more aggressively.
Pili nuts are: 1) loaded with magnesium, potassium, and calcium; 2) rich in omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus, and protein, promoting heart health and balancing cholesterol levels; 3) full of all eight essential amino acids which increase satiety, thus helping in weight loss; 4) abundant in Vitamin E for healthy skin and hair; and 5) helpful in treating insomnia because their high magnesium content promotes restful sleep.
The enviable versatility of the pili includes the following: 1) the kernel can be eaten raw or sugar-coated, roasted or salted, and it is also used in confections like candies, cakes, and ice creams; 2) both the kernel and the pulp are excellent sources of oil, and reputedly even better than olive oil; (3) pili oil is a natural germicide and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties for treating wounds and allergies; 4) the fragrant pili tree sap, known worldwide as Manila elemi, is used in perfumes, aromatherapy oils, and anti-aging products; 5) the hardy shells make excellent charcoal briquettes for commercial bakeries; 5) the pili tree is also a hardwood for furniture and home décor; and 6) the full-grown pili tree which averages 20 meters tall is a natural wind breaker, ideal in the typhoon-prone Bicol Region, and can also be used for massive reforestation.
In my more than 30 years as a Bicolano legislator, I have always strongly supported and campaigned for the growth and expansion of the pili industry, improvement in pili production, and protection of pili planters and entrepreneurs.
The modernization of pili cultivation and the development of the pili industry were already in my agenda even when I was a first-term legislator in the 8th Congress. I wrote to then Secretary of Agriculture Carlos Dominguez to earmark funds to jumpstart the pili industry. When the late Senator Edgardo Angara was the Agriculture Secretary of President Joseph Estrada, I also informed him about my concern that the pili was not getting the funding and attention it deserved as a valuable resource.
Twenty-five years ago, I sponsored the establishment of what is now the Pili Regional Research and Technology Development Center under the Department of Agriculture at the foot of the Mayon Volcano in Tabaco City. It has been promoting pili as the Bicol Region’s flagship crop. Moreover, it has achieved 85.90% success in asexual propagation; identified eight superior varieties; and distributed thousands of grafted pili and pili seedlings regionwide.
When I was appropriations chairman in the 14th Congress, I allocated P500-M for the development of indigenous Philippine products, a sizeable amount of which was budgeted for pili cultivation and production. The pili seedlings planted with this fund are now full grown, fruit-bearing trees.
Just last September, I wrote twice to Agriculture Secretary William Dar proposing the establishment and funding of a “Pili Industry Development Program” for harnessing the potential of the pili and the full development of the pili industry in the Provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, and Camarines Sur and other parts of the Bicol Region and the country which are suitable to pili cultivation. Secretary Dar initially allocated P30-M which should be sustained annually in much bigger amounts.
Since pili is endemic to the entire Bicol Region, no one province can claim to be the “Pili Capital of the Philippines”, an appellation that is both counterproductive and discriminatory.
Importantly, the regionwide Bicol University, under the able stewardship of its President, Dr. Arnulfo M. Mascariñas, is immensely contributing to the research and development of the pili industry.
There is critical need for sufficient and continuing government support and private sector investments to address the following concerns: 1) establishment of pili plantations because the current supply of pili raw materials principally comes from backyard trees; 2) prolonging the shelf-life of pili products to increase their competitiveness with other nuts; 3) enhancing the quality of pili products and improving their packaging to make them more competitive and attractive; 4) massively promoting the export potential of pili products; and 5) prohibiting the exportation of the raw pili shell, grafted pili and pili seedlings to maintain the country’s dominance in pili production.
Verily, the export potential of pili is propelled by the country’s comparative advantage as the sole producer of pili products. Let us seize and maximize this singular opportunity.
We must not miss the great potential and unmatched versatility of the pili nut which we must commercially crack, so to speak, for more domestic consumption and global export. Consumers abroad will surely go nuts over the pili.