Rediscovering cacao's potentials

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Sunday, April 13, 2014


THERE’S no person in this world who may not like chocolates at all. “Any sane person loves chocolate,” declared Bob Greene. In fact, “nine out of ten people like chocolate. And the tenth person lies,” said John Q. Tullius.

Chocolate consumption worldwide has been growing at 3 percent annually, recent studies have shown. “Though the majority of cacao is consumed in North America and Europe, demand is growing more rapidly in Asia where strong economic growth, particularly in India and China, is resulting in more people being able to afford luxury foodstuffs such as chocolate,” according to a position paper written by Adam Keatts and Christopher Root.

Chocolates come from cacao, which was first cultivated by the Mayans around the 7th century A.D. They carried the seed north from the tropical Amazon forests to what is now Mexico.

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In the 16th century, the Spanish planted cacao across South America, into Central America, and onto the Caribbean Islands. In the 17th century, the Dutch transported the cacao to other places around the globe like Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, New Guinea, and the Philippines.

“In 1670, Spanish mariner Pedro Bravo de Lagunas planted the first cacao in San Jose, Batangas,” reports The Philippines Recommends for Cacao. After that, cacao growing flourished in various parts of the country – until pod rot wiped out plantations of it.

In the 1950’s, the imposition of Import Control Law resulted in efforts to revive the industry by inter-governmental agencies and by private sector for self-sufficiency and export. By the time the industry was blooming, pod borer infestation surfaced. Control of the disease was quite expensive. As a result, established plantations were again wiped out; others were abandoned.

This particularly happened in Mindanao, where most of the cacao crops were grown. In 1990, about 18,388 hectares were planted to cacao, according to the Department of Agriculture.

By 2006, the area declined to less than 10,000 hectares. During this period, production fell from 9,900 tons to about 5,400 tons, with two-thirds of the production coming from Davao region alone.

As production plummeted in the Philippines, demand for cocoa beans in the international continues to grow. In 2010, the annual world market needs was 3.6 million tons of cocoa beans. The demand was growing annually by 90,000 tons.

The European Union and the United States are the two biggest finished chocolate product consumers, accounting for three-quarters of total chocolate consumption, reported Keatts and Root. Other significant chocolate consumers are Russia, Japan, and Brazil.

Although cacao grows readily in the Philippines, the country has a hard time joining the international market. In fact, it imports about 30,000 tons cocoa products (in the form of beans, powder, butter, and liquor) every year. The reason for this importation: Filipino farmers can only produce about 6,000 tons of cocoa beans every year.

“The problem of the market is there’s not enough beans,” commented Nicolas K. Richards, who was then the chief of party of Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA), an economic development organization that specializes in food security, agribusiness, community development, financial services, and enterprise development.

Although the country imports cocoa beans, it was able to ship 250 tons to other countries in 2010. This contribution was lamentable since the Philippines is ideal for cacao growing. Mindanao, for instance, is best for cacao production – except those areas 1,400 meters above sea level like the higher places in Bukidnon.

Cacao can be grown anywhere in the country, but Mindanao has two advantages: good rainfall and good soil. Studies have shown that the potential expansion for cacao growing is huge: about 2,000,000 hectares of coconut lands are “highly suited” to be interplanted with cacao.

“Cacao is highly suitable to intercropping and mixed farming systems, and can add more than US$1,500 per hectare of income from 500 mature trees per year,” Richards said.

Val Turtur, executive director of the Cacao Development Industry Association in Mindanao, urged farmers in Davao region to plant more cacao to meet the global demand of cacao beans.

According to studies, at least two hundred million cacao trees should have been grown by 2020 to reach the target volume of 100,000 tons of cacao beans. That’s two times the annual domestic demand of the country.

Currently, only about 20,000 hectares are planted to cacao in five Davao provinces (Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, and Davao Occidental) and the city of Davao. The region contributes 70 percent of the total cacao production in the country.

“The Davao region has to plant seven million trees to meet the 2020 target,” Turtur told a national daily.

In Davao City, Councilor Leonardo Avila III is encouraging farmers and entrepreneurs to plant cacao. “I urge farmers and agribusiness sectors to invest in cacao because it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Avila, when he was still the chief of the city agriculture office.

“It’s a suitable crop in diversifying the existing tree crops and in making more money. And there is already a ready market.”

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 14, 2014.

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