FOR the cacao industry in Central Visayas to survive and to be commercially attractive worldwide, its stakeholders must concentrate and strengthen its production capability and supply sustainability first.
This is according to the Department of Agriculture 7 Regional Director Salvador Diputado during the Cebu Cacao Stakeholders Forum on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.
“Our cacao producers must realize that there is more in cacao production than just farming. There is money; there is a very healthy market for the cacao industry in the world. That is why we must be encouraged to learn new knowledge and trends in this industry,” he said.
According to him, while they are still looking for possible tie-ups with the international community, it is important that the region must first improve its production.
“We still have to harness our production so that we can produce enough supply of cacao commercially. Once we establish a base that we can sustain our cacao production, that’s the time that we can link to big consumers of cacao,” he added.
Cacao, also known as the “tree of love,” produces dried fermented seeds used to make chocolates.
Shift to premium
In his presentation, Assistant Regional Director for the Department of Trade and Industry-National Cacao Cluster Coordinator Edwin Banquerigo identified Europe, the United States and Canada as the world’s leading consumers of cacao.
These countries being naturally incapable of growing their own cacaos can be the region’s biggest potential market, he said.
Valente Turtur, chairperson of the Philippine Cacao Industry, also mentioned various issues, updates and innovations on cacao production technology.
One of these is the “shift to premium quality” of some cacao producers as they embrace the new trend of “bean to bar cocoa.”
“What could possibly be the solution for us not to be that affected by the cacao’s price volatility? We should shift to premium cacao quality. Everywhere, you’ll see that it’s the coffee shops now that are processing, roasting these coffee beans and that’s what we want to do with cacao beans also,” he said.
According to Turtur, consumers are now more enticed to buy chocolate products that are processed in their presence.
Such is the practice of Racquel Ochoa who is dubbed as Cebu’s Chocolate Queen.
“People are willing to buy because Ochoa is making something that is artistic. They appreciate the art that’s applied in the product. This is the trend,” he added.
‘Sikwate’ in fast-food
Moreover, Banquerigo said once cacao production is stabilized, it’s not impossible that hot chocolate or “sikwate” in Cebuano, can also capture the fast-food consumers.
“There is no food chain in the Philippines yet which serves ‘sikwate.’ Can you imagine if we also offer sikwate in a local fast food chain? But then again, the first question we’re asked when we try to approach fast-food chain owners, is its supply stability,” he said.
Ochoa, who envisions to put the Philippines in the map of cacao producers in the world, said it must first saturate locally before opting to bigger exports.
“Our first goal is to bring back the love of the Filipinos for cacao farming and to bring back the love for cacao drinking. I want tourists to come to our country. For me it’s sustainable. Once we become known for cacao, we can strengthen our agri-tourism and that creates additional employment,” she said.
Alternative to plastic
Meanwhile, Turtur also introduced the use of seaweeds as an alternative to plastic as cacao pod sleeve that protects cacao from harmful insects.
This is advisable since cacao consumers today, especially Europeans, are getting more conscious about its environmental sustainability as well, he said.
Armi Garcia, chairperson of the Cebu Cacao Industry Development and honorary consul of Russia in Cebu City, also introduced the use of biodegradable plastics as cacao pod sleeves.
Based on the Philippine cacao industry roadmap, the country aims to increase production by 40 percent every year to hit 100,000 metric tons of fermented cacao beans by 2022 for the export and domestic markets.