LABO, CAMARINES NORTE – The Labo Progressive Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LPMPC) is known for its refreshing pineapple fruit juice drink branded as Queench. Since 2007, the cooperative has ventured in pineapple juice drink processing as well as production of pure pineapple juice, pineapple jam, dried pineapple and pineapple fiber. LPMPC supplies Queench to various schools in the province in support of the Department of Education’s “Healthy School Canteen” advocacy. The cooperative also sells its products to local government units and government agencies in Bicol. Fiber-rich pineapple juice is a better substitute for soft drinks and juice drinks with artificial flavorings.

However, the growing market demand for Queench is limited by LPMPC’s low production efficiency because of its processing plant’s small capacity. According to LPMPC Agribusiness Supervisor Rey Ulysses Dimaano, the current LPMPC Integrated Pineapple Processing Center in Brgy. Malasugui, this province can only produce 200 boxes of Queench juice drinks per day at 10 packs of 200 ml per box. He mentioned that the cooperative cannot even accommodate all its pineapple farmer-members’ harvests due to limited storage space.

With the Philippine Rural Development Project, the LPMPC will manage the Camarines Norte Pineapple Trading and Processing Project which comes with a P6.74 million-worth processing plant. The facility is now 100 percent completed and is just waiting for the delivery of production equipment including the juice extracting machine, pasteurizer with automatic filling and sealing machine, blast freezer and generator set. The cooperative aims to raise its produce by 1,000 boxes per day once the new facility is operational. Only juice drink and pure juice will be produced in the processing plant while jam, jelly and dehydrated pineapple production will be done in the previous facility.

Among the workers who are excited about this development is Jonalyn Candelaria, 26 years old, of this barangay. A member of the cooperative for two years, Candelaria earns P1,580 weekly by helping in the pineapple juice processing operation such as peeling, washing, chopping, extracting, pasteurization, filling, sealing and packaging.

Candelaria believes that with the LPMPC’s production expansion comes more opportunities for laborers like her to gain higher income.

Dimaano, on the other hand, added that the production expansion will generate more employment and economic progress to the province’s pineapple industry. He also expressed his gratitude to the Department of Agriculture and the PRDP for the enterprise development (I-REAP) project.

Hindi po kaya ng LPMPC kung internal fund generation ang gagamitin kasi maaapektuhan naman ang operation ng ibang branches. Ang LPMPC ay credit and savings, kung mag-i-invest po kami sa ganitong proyekto may mga limitasyon. Malaking bagay yung ginawa ng DA para sa ganitong programa, maraming miyembro ang maaaring matulungan nito (LPMPC cannot afford this project with internal fund generation because it will affect the operation of other branches. LPMPC is engaged in credit and savings, there will be limitations if we invest in a similar project. What DA did with this program was a big deal, it will benefit more members),” he said.

LPMPC plans to collaborate with civil society organizations, other cooperatives and institutional buyers to expand its market. The cooperative targets to start its full operation by early 2019.

A total of 1,805.55 hectares of land in Camarines Norte is devoted for pineapple production in seven major pineapple growing municipalities. The P21.91 million-worth Camarines Norte Pineapple Trading and Processing Project’s primary product will be the fresh pineapple better known as the Queen “Formosa” pineapple, the sweetest pineapple variety in the country. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA-RAFIS V)