This article was first published on DA-BAR.
Batanes is not only visually known for its picturesque landscapes of verdant rolling hills and lush mountains, its iconic stone houses, its raw climate, and its unique cultural heritage. Batanes is also home to an indigenous tree, Arius (Podocarpus costalis), which the lvatans referred to as “Batanes pines” that bears Batanes berries.
The tree, which grows 1-2.5 meters in height, is abundantly growing in the province and is mainly used for its aesthetic value. It is being grown in the provincial park and town plazas, school grounds, church yards, backyards, along roads, and other paraded areas of the province for better appreciation of their landscape. During Christmas season, the locals trimmed the Arius to resemble Christmas trees and placed it in their lawns as as decorative accent. Locals also revealed that they used Arius for bonsai, which is excellent for landscaping.
Arius bears berry-like, fleshy fruits which become brightly colored from red to purple when mature. As these berries are not popularly eaten in the province, they are eaten just by birds from dispersing the seeds in their droppings.
When a local was asked how the Batanes berries taste likes, they would usually say, “masarap, matamis, medyo malagkit.” (delicious, sweet, somewhat sticky). Since most of the locals are not aware that the fruits are actually edible, most of the fruits just rot and decay and are left unutilized.
Looking into the potential of this indigenous tree and its carbohydrate-rich Batanes berries, Dr. Roger G. Baltazar, director for research and extension of the Batanes State College (BaSCO), submitted a proposed study to the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) for funding. The bureau has been keen on supporting R&D initiatives that gives particular impotance to the country’s indigenous plants and the need to tap and utilized them for their potentials.
The project is funded under the bureau’s banner program, National Technology Commercialization Program (NTCP) which gives priorities to R&D breakthroughs and mature technologies generated and developed by research institutions. The program serves as a vital ingredient in the development of enterprises and the improvement of agriculture and fisheries-related industries.
The study, “Processing Technology Development and Utilization for Organically Grown Arius Fruits in Batanes” aimed to develop technologies that will be used in the processing of organically-grown Arius fruits and other value-adding activities that will provide highly-marketable products from these Batanes berries.
Among the Arius-based products that will be developed from the project include: wine, pastilla, tart, jam, preserved fruits, and teas.
The project has been recently approved by BAR for funding, allotting PhP1.6M to further promote growing of Arius and create livelihood in the province through the commercialization of its food products. Given the agro-climatic condition of Batanes which is suited for growing Batanes berries, this project is also seen to further promote this indigenous tree which is seen to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
It was also worth noting that Arius trees bear fruits only in Batanes. This was proven when one Batanes visitor tried to grow the tree in the lowland. It did grow but the tree did not bear fruits unlike those grown in Batanes.
According to Dr. Baltazar, the Arius trees are in season and bear fruits during summer (April and May) but its berries are ready for picking usually from July to October. Berries that will be used for the project will be handpicked from its trees and placed in plastic containers so that they will not be scratched and smashed during the transportation process. The proponent added that the products which will be developed will be tested for market acceptability.