A decade ago, calamansi and dalandan-two citrus fruits that are endemic to the Philippines-penetrated the international market. International chefs regarded the calamansi as a cross between a lime and a lemon.

Davao-based Tagum Golden Foods is one of the local agribusiness firms that has benefited from the increasing popularity of calamansi in other countries. Company owner Alma L. Uy disclosed that the firm is now in talks with two member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for calamansi juice exports.

Just a few months ago, Uy said the company started exporting ready-to-drink calamansi fruit juice to South Korea. Tagum Golden Foods ships out one ton of calamansi juice every three days. Uy said the Korean buyer wants to increase the volume to three tons.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Uy disclosed that she encountered a lot of difficulties in the first few years of Tagum Golden Foods’ operation. I incurred nothing but losses. What sustained me was the belief that I’m doing something good for local calamansi farmers and that this industry has a future.

Five years ago, Uy started bottling calamansi puree and sweetened and flavored juices to capitalize on the readily available calamansi juice during harvest time. She organized

several women as her first workers.

The process of extracting calamansi juice was difficult because the pressing process was manu-mano [by hand], with only 70 percent recovery, she said.

In 2012 Uy was able to acquire a hydraulic press machine from the Department of

Science and Technology (DOST) via a P222,400 loan from the Small Enterprise Upgrading Program (SETUP).

Because she was able to prepay the loan, Uy decided to again avail of the SETUP financial

assistance to improve product packaging and labeling. Tagum Golden Foods received P582,710 last October. The amount covered for the machine, including training for her employees.

Currently Tagum Golden Foods is known for producing quality calamansi concentrate and pure calamansi ready-to-drink juice. While not disclosing figures, Uy said business is good, especially after the company improved product quality and enhanced food safety.

The company has also been able to establish waste processing and minimization practices that allowed it to clinch the prestigious E3 (Excellence in Ecology and Economy) Award from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry during the DOST Mindanao Cluster Science and Technology Fair last November.

The E3 Award is given to selected companies and enterprises that have demonstrated the most innovative and outstanding environmental performance in their pursuit of business sustainability and profit.

In our entire business operation, we developed and implemented activities that promote sustainability, Uy said.

Nothing is wasted in Tagum Golden Foods, as the peels and rind of calamansi are dried and sold to a Japanese buyer for P8 per kilogram. Uy said the dried peels and rind are added to cattle feed to improve the animal’s meat flavor and overall quality.

Uy said she buys calamansi directly from farmers at P300 to P400 per kg during off-season. She said she buys farmers’ produce at a higher price to encourage them to plant.

Asked whether she is ‘unwittingly’ causing the spike in calamansi prices in her area, Uy said buying calamansi at a higher price has prompted farmers to further cultivate their citrus trees. This, she said, makes their trees more productive and allows them to produce calamansi and earn more.

Uy said more government assistance would allow the local calamansi sector to become competitive. The calamansi sector, she said, has the potential to corner a big chunk of the Asean market.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that calamansi production in the first quarter of the year reached 16,950 metric tons (MT). This was 2.9 percent below the 2014 production level of 17,450 thousand MT.