Forbidden fruit: the Palawan mango tempting tourists

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Forbidden fruit: the Palawan mango tempting tourists

(Image/Hannah Taylor)

(Image/Hannah Taylor)

(Image/Hannah Taylor)

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In the crystal blue waters of the Sulu Sea lies Palawan, an island around 600 kilometres from the Philippines capital Manila – known for its picturesque lagoons, shipwrecks… and sugary mangoes.

Filipinos believe that the juicy sweetness of Palawan’s tropical fruit is the best in the country – and tourists agree. So much so, that many are defying the region’s mango exportation ban.

Gerry Gevela is the Municipal Agriculturalist of Coron. He says it is not uncommon for border control officers to catch mango smugglers in the act.

“We have quarantine officers in the airport, so we are not allowing [anyone] to bring these mangoes outside,” he said.

But not all unlucky tourists have to go without.

“I [spoke] to one of the quarantine officers,” Mr Gevela said. “They allowed [one particular] foreigner… to eat that mango in the terminal.”

The exportation ban was first imposed in 1989 and prevents any movement of mangoes outside the Palawan region. The reason – a pesky insect called the Mango Pulp Weevil. The weevil penetrates the fruit and lays its eggs underneath the skin, making it impossible to tell whether a mango is damaged until it is cut open.

Palawan is the only region of the Philippines with the mango exportation ban still in place. Mr Gevela believes that this is unfortunate, as the soil and tropical conditions of the island improves the taste.

“To ensure the mango pulp weevil is only here in Palawan, we don’t allow this mango to spread to other places… [if we do] the mango industry of the Philippines will be affected.

We don’t want to destroy this industry all over the Philippines.

“Some of the foreigners that come to Palawan, they eat this kind of mango in Palawan because it’s very sweet. That is why when some of the tourists go out, they have them confiscated at the airport.”

Rhon Laurente comes from a long line of mango farmers. She inherited her farm from her father and has been working there alongside her husband ever since.

“When the insects come, the whole mango tree will be damaged and we can’t sell,” she said.

They normally use pesticide to tackle the weevil, but it’s expensive. Instead, they sometimes wrap the mangoes in newspaper.

“The only way, if the weevil infiltrated the trees, is if we wrap the mangoes in newspaper. It’s the only way we can make a profit out of it.”

Rhon Laurente is a mango farmer in Coron, Palawan (Image/Hannah Taylor)

The newspaper prevents the weevil from penetrating the mango and laying its eggs. It’s also substantially cheaper than the pesticides.

Even when they make it through a season with no weevil damage, Ms Laurente is still strained by the exportation ban. It is the old economics conundrum of supply versus demand.

“If other growers dramatically harvest tonnes of mangoes [when there aren’t enough consumers] there will be more supply of mangoes. The value of the mango then decreases.”

Some mango farmers have found a way to control their harvest through the use of a flowering agent. If demand is high, the chemical can be used to help the trees bear more blooms and subsequent fruit.

This process may come in handy should there ever be a day that Australians can purchase the Palawan mango.

“Maybe there will be a study that there is no mango weevil here in Palawan, [then] we can bring the mango to other places,” Gerry Gevela said.

Until that day, tourists are warned to leave their mangoes at the hotel, to avoid crossing less empathetic airport officials.

“The quarantine officer may throw it in the trash can.” – Hannah Taylor @Hannah__Taylor1

* The author travelled to the Philippines as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour, a University of Technology Sydney (UTS) programme supported by the New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility grants.