Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Harumanis to tantalise Japan

THE Harumanis mango may not be easy on the eyes but it has won the taste buds of the Japanese and the fruit is expected to be exported in large quantities to the country, writes SITI NURBAIYAH NADZMI.

  The Harumanis mango does not have the tantalising looks of its peers. Thailand's prized export Nam Dok Mai or waterlily has translucent golden skin and the elegant shape of a lotus petal; India's Alphonso has a plump top and curved nose with a blush of pink over yellow; Mexico's Tommy Atkin ripens to nectar red.
  At the fruit stalls, other local mango varieties, such as the common Sala with its deep green skin and long tapered shape, overshadow the pale green kidney-shaped Harumanis, often blemished with latex burns and dark spots due to poor handling during harvesting and fruit-wrapping.
  But the Harumanis' unrivalled flavour and aroma are wooing Japanese fresh fruit importers.
  Last week, representatives of the importers sampled Harumanis at Ladang Bukit Bintang at Sungai Batu Pahat in Perlis, and the mango connoisseurs gave the thumbs-up for aroma, flavour, texture and sweetness, which recorded a higher reading than other mango cultivars.
  Their verdict is significant: Harumanis will open the gates to the marketing of Malaysian fresh fruits in Japan next year.
  Japan's ambassador to Malaysia, Masahiko Horie, was besotted after his first taste of Harumanis and proposed a gourmet sushi of Perlis' creamy glutinous rice wrapped with thinly sliced Harumanis to be sold in Tokyo.
  Horie says the Harumanis has many plus points for the tropical fruit market in Japan, largely due to its superior aroma and flavour, succulent and non-fibrous flesh and sweetness. But consumers will have to be educated on the mature green fruit. "The general perception over there is that a ripe mango has to have yellow skin. Green means unripe and therefore not sweet."
  Horie stresses that the market is particular on the physical presentation of the fruit. "The skin must not be flawed by spots or latex burn. While it may be natural, the general perception is that the fruit has gone bad."
  Tropical fruit is a growing market in Japan. Total mango imports to Japan last year were 11,000 tonnes, with the largest exporter being Mexico, followed by Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan.
  Before Malaysia can join these players, Harumanis must first pass the stringent import protocols set by Japan; among other things eliminating fruit fly larvae by standard vapour heat treatment (VHT).
  "We are going for the premium quality," says Abdul Razak Shafiai, director of the
Perlis Agriculture Department. Otherwise it will not be cost-efficient. The entire production process has to be improved."
  Compared with other mango varieties, Harumanis is a temperamental fruit. It can only be cultivated in Perlis and Kubang Pasu, a northern district in Kedah, because it needs a four-month-long dry season of at least 40 degrees Celsius to flower and fruit. Rain, even drizzles, during this crucial period will spoil the yield.
  After the fruit is set, it needs to be wrapped in waterproof paper.
"The skin can't withstand rain, but if we use perforated plastic bags, the fruit will sweat and rot," says Razak.
  Precisely eight weeks after wrapping, the fruits must be manually harvested, washed to rinse off residues, treated in hot water for five minutes to eliminate fruit fly and seed weevil larvae, and then individually wrapped again before being placed in a ripening chamber for three days.
  It is a labour-intensive process and there are no shortcuts.
  With Japan showing strong interest in Harumanis, Perlis is hoping to increase its annual yield, which currently stands at 350 tonnes for local consumption.
  The bigger challenge, however, lies in persuading local farmers to apply good agricultural practices. "It is not easy to change the traditional ways," Razak says.
  Harumanis was introduced in 1985, with about 1,300ha cultivated under a special scheme. But after some years, many farmers switched to other commercial crops such as oil palm, rubber and padi.
  The Harumanis acreage dwindled to just 65ha tended by 69 farmers, while the State Agriculture Department has 45ha.
  One of the pioneers, Shahimi Shaari, 40, says his 22-year investment in Harumanis has been profitable even during the worst seasons. His 0.4ha orchard in Kampung Gial has 80 trees and should yield about 13 tonnes of mangoes this year.
  Shahimi admits that Harumanis is more demanding than other crops, but the returns are rewarding. "It does not need replanting and the yield improves with the trees' age," he says.
  "Because of its terminal fruiting nature (where the fruit forms at the ends of branches), we only have to prune the branches."
  During good seasons, one tree can bear up to 300 fruits. With the high demand for Harumanis, Shahimi says, there is never an oversupply.
  The prospect of producing premium quality mangoes for the export market is enticing, and Shahimi is ready to do the necessary for higher volume and value, with guidance from the State Agriculture Department.
  "I am proud that it is a fruit from Perlis that will be the first from this country to break into Japan," he says, "so I will do what it takes to produce export quality Harumanis."

New Straits Times, May 19, 2009

Ruler: Not everything is rosy about Harumanis

LAST week, the Raja of Perlis was upset with three things pertaining to Harumanis: the theft of the fruits, the lack of studies and the low output.
  Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Syed Jamalullail expressed this in his speech at the closing ceremony of the Harumanis Festival in Kangar and suggested urgent remedies needed to be taken.
  The superior quality of the fruit has attracted Japanese importers to market and promote Harumanis in Japan, provided that it passes stringent import protocols.
  Once the market barriers are lifted, other fruits such as mangosteen, rambutan and papaya may just follow.
  However, other pertinent issues lie within Perlis itself. Theft for one, is rampant, and Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin has described it as an act of treachery to the farmers and the market.
  Unlike other mangoes, Harumanis has to be processed and ripened before it is ready for the market. Without this crucial process, the stolen mangoes would suffer a condition called "insidious fruit rot" or "soft nose", where the fruit looks fine on the outside but is rotten on the
  Buyers, mostly tourists, would be shortchanged; a few rotten fruit will surely sour the market.
  Since 1985, the Perlis government has tried in vain to push farmers into planting Harumanis, but many felt that Harumanis was not commercially viable.
  A source says that even some agencies were not too keen on Harumanis, resulting in poor technology and marketing support of the product.
  Persistent problems with seed weevils and fruit flies, and the possibility of producing out-of-season fruits, were never addressed or explored.
  The state Agriculture Department had to improve cultivation by trial-and-error, while at the same time selling the fruit over their cafe counter at Ladang Bukit Bintang in Sungai Batu Pahat.
  It took two decades for word to spread about Harumanis.
  During the recent festival, however, the department sold seven tonnes of Harumanis within three hours and the counter had to be closed early.
  In other parts of the country, Harumanis is being sold as a brand and not as a variety, when in reality the fruit has never really left the state.
  Mustaqim Abdullah, 26, who helps run his father's business of processing fruits from private orchards, says there are not enough fruits to be sold in Perlis.
  "Harumanis has never been sold wholesale to retailers outside Perlis," he says.
  "Most people buy and post it to their friends or relatives in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, or as far as Europe and the Middle East."
  Land titles are another issue. Many farmers are cultivating on untitled lands, says Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Md Isa Sabu, hampering efforts in cluster farming.
  Cluster farming, where several farmers plan, manage and process the fruits like a community project, is a proven success in Thailand.
  Three years ago through this method, mango production leapt 300 per cent and doubled in value.
  The ruler's address was a clear indication that Harumanis should be treated as an important commodity, with a strategic plan for its cultivation.

New Straits Times, May 19, 2009