Uniquely Batanes: Now serving Arius food products

            When one talks about Batanes, one will probably blabber about the endless rolling hills, the majestic view of the Pacific Ocean, the rustic Ivatan traditional house, the lofty lighthouses, the heartwarming Ivatans, among others. One would perhaps miss out on mentioning those pine-like trees that gloriously stand out along the sidelines and provide a decorative landscape on the roads and landmarks of Batanes. Given their abundance, particularly when traversing the streets of Basco, Mahatao, Ivana or even in the islands of Sabtang and Itbayat—this tree will awe any tourist on how the Ivantans make use of them.

 

            The tree, known as Arius (Podocarpus costalis), is an endemic in Batanes. It serves as an excellent ornamental tree often used by the Ivantans as Christmas tree during the Yuletide season.

 

Arius bears fruits during the months of July to October. Its berries are edible and its appearance and taste compare to that of duhat. The Arius berry is fleshy and turns from red to purple when mature. The taste is mildly sweet and tangy. The berry has a single green seed attached to it, just like the cashew. Its seed is found at the end of the fruit.

 

Not just for decoration

 

            “It is regrettable that the Ivatans are not aware that these fruits can be processed into valuable products” said Dr. Edwin F. Macaballug, president of the Batanes State College (BSC). This observation was reaffirmed by the faculties of BSC who also shared that the Ivatans would just usually let the Arius berries fall and rot from the tree or be eaten by the birds. “I told them that in the mainland (general term for Luzon) Arius is only used as ornamental plant because it would not bear berries outside Batanes,” added by Macaballug.

 

            The potentials of Arius berries to turn into processed food products only started in 2012 when the director for research and extension of BSC, the late Dr. Roger G. Baltazar, took interest on Arius berries. This prodded him to submit a proposal to the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) which was then funded under its National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP). The realization of a vision to make Arius known across the country as commodity that is uniquely Batanes started to take shape.

 

Developing food products

 

            Upon the approval of project, the first product that BSC developed was the Arius wine. Fruit-based wines are considered a healthy beverage if taken in moderation. Red wine, such as those from Arius wine, helps fight heart diseases. The berries are high in flavonoids which function as antioxidants in human.

 

            Capitalizing on the situation that fruit-based wines have progressively carving its niche in the beverage market, the BSC joined numerous product trade fairs and exhibits to market test Arius products especially the wine. Based on the results, Arius wine passed the standards of a fruit-based wine.

 

            After being satisfied on the quality of Arius wine, the project team focused on the improvement of its packaging which they have satisfactorily done. They have tapped the weavers of Batanes to make the special wine holder and it is made out of the same material used in making vakul (Ivatan traditional headgear). “We paid the elderly weavers 100 pesos for every wine holder. It is especially designed for the Arius wines. It is our way of helping them in getting income and promoting the handicrafts of Batanes,” said Djovi R. Durante, study leader of the project. Other Arius-based products developed include pastillas, tart, jam, jelly, and tea.

 

            The project team has foreseen that the demand for the Arius wine and other Arius-based products will boom once it has been commercialized in the whole province and most likely, the products will also appeal among the tourists who are looking for souvenir gifts.

 

The BSC is making strategies on how to expand their production and widen their market reach. However, they are having problems on the availability of the Arius berries because of its seasonality. The influx of tourists visiting the island starts from November to June which is the lean season for the Arius berries. They came up with a solution which is to acquire additional cold storage equipment to store the Arius berries so that even if it is off-season, they can still produce the products. They will start on the technology transfer of Arius processing to the Ivatan housewives to help them in supplying the Arius products.

 

            “Due to word-of-mouth, the tourists came to us to buy Arius products especially the wine which surprised us because we are not yet promoting it heavily to the public. There are also travel agencies who were vocal in their intentions of becoming an exclusive distributor,” shared Durante.

 

            The project team is also planning to organize an Arius tree planting activity. Durante mentioned that with the recent developments in Batanes such as the road widening, many Arius trees are being cut down. A newly-planted Arius tree usually takes 10-15 years before it bears fruit. With this initiative on tree planting, there is an assurance that there will be Arius trees available for the future Ivatans.

 

            Owing to the uniqueness of the commodity, the Arius wine was given a citation award as “Best New Product” during the BAR-organized event, the 9th National Agriculture and Fisheries Technology Forum and Product Exhibition held at SM Megamall in 2013.

 

A year after, heeding the recommendations for the further improvement of the product and its packaging, the Arius-based products bagged the grand prize for the “Best Packaged Product” and “Best Newly-Developed Product” during the North Luzon Cluster S&T Fair organized by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). ### Diana Rose A. de Leon

 

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Contact person:

Mr. Edwin F. Macaballug

President/Project Leader

Batanes State College (BSC)

Basco, Batanes

Mobile: 09396590971

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

© 2021 | Department of Agriculture - Bureau of Agricultural Research