Potential of cacao as export crop-A A +A
Monday, June 11, 2012
CACAO has a potential of becoming an export crop only if the farmers “are equipped with postharvest technologies.” That's according to a news report which appeared in a national daily.
There is a general lack of postharvest knowledge and proper equipment among farmers cultivating the crop, said Dr. Romualdo Martinez, chief science research specialist of the Philippine Center for Postharvest and Mechanization (PhilMech).
This is "the reason why the Philippines could not export large quantities of cocoa, the basic raw material from cacao that is used for the manufacture of chocolates and by-products," wrote Marvyn N. Benaning, author of the news report.
Abroad, there is a growing demand for the "foods of the gods," as cacao is known. "Cocoa bean is a major agricultural commodity traded worldwide," Dr. Martinez was quoted as saying. "In 2011, the world produced around 4.25 million metric tons. About 74.8 percent of production came from Africa. Asia contributed around 12.5 percent, the bulk of which came from Indonesia."
The European Union and the United States are the two biggest finished chocolate product consumers, accounting for three-quarters of total chocolate consumption, reported Adam Keatts and Christopher Root in a position paper. Other significant chocolate consumers are Russia, Japan, and Brazil.
"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," Keatts and Root wrote.
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 every year.
"The problem of the market is there's not enough beans," commented Nicolas K. Richards, 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 shipped 250 tons to other countries in 2010. This contribution is 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.
Mindanao does not have typhoons and has good rainfall and good soil, Richards explains on why he singled out the country's second largest island. "But cacao would grow anywhere in the Philippines," he added.
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. "It is a proven crop in the Philippines, ready for resurrection."
In Davao City, former councilor Leonardo Avila is encouraging farmers and entrepreneurs to plant cacao. "I urge farmers and agribusiness sectors to invest in cacao because it's a wonderful opportunity," says Avila, now 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."
Cacao was first cultivated by the Mayas around the 7th century A.D. They carried the seed north from the tropical Amazon forests to what is now Mexico. 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 1950s, 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, with most of the crops growing in Davao, Zamboanga peninsula, Western Visayas, North Mindanao, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Caraga, 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.
Is the future of cacao in the Philippines bleak? Richards doesn’t think so. In fact, he believes the country will be one of the biggest cacao producers in Asia along with Malaysia and Indonesia.
This can be achieved only if some 500 million more cacao trees are already growing in about 150,000 to 200,000 hectares of land in the next eight years. By 2020, the country can produce 100,000 tons of cacao beans.
For those who want to plant cacao in their farms, here are some tips from the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development:
- The use of seeds is the most method of planting cacao. Seeds must be selected carefully and must come from big pods obtained from trees which are highly productive, regular bearers and free from pests. Seeds must be planted immediately since their viability is limited.
- Seedlings to be retained in the nursery for 3-4 months must be raised in polyethylene bags. The seedlings are shaded both above and at the sides for protection against strong winds. Coconut palm fronds can be used for the purpose.
- Transplanting can be done when the shoots become mature and the leaves become hard and dark green. Utmost care is necessary in transporting as the seedlings are very pone to transplanting shock.
- Care should be taken to remove the polyethylene container with minimal disturbance. Seedlings are to be planted at the same depth as they were in the polyethylene bags. Topsoil is poured into the hole a few centimeters at a time and then carefully pressed down.
- Proper maintenance such as weeding, mulching, fertilizing, pest control, shade adjustment and pruning are necessary to keep the trees healthy and obtain high production. Harvesting may be done in about three to five years after planting.
Even if more farmers are going to plant cacao in their farms, the issue of postharvest technologies must also be solved. "Traditionally, cocoa beans are dried without undergoing fermentation," said Dr. Rodolfo Estigoy, head of PhilMech’s Applied Communication Division. "However, fermentation has now become a standard process for producing good quality."
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 11, 2012.