A YEAR after being declared the chocolate and cacao capital of the Philippines, the chocolate and cacao industry of Davao is poised to thrive further in the local and global market, but it will take some hard work and time.

Under Republic Act No. 11547 enacted on May 27, 2021, Davao City is officially the Chocolate Capital of the Philippines with over 100 homegrown chocolate processors in the city, while the entirety of Davao Region is the Cacao Capital of the Philippines with its hectares of cacao farms producing high-quality cacao beans.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Davao City produced 6,000 metric tons of cacao beans. In a span of two years, despite the global pandemic, the city was able to produce 7,000 metric tons.

Valente Turtur, executive director of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao Inc. (Cidami), said the increase in production is a good sign. However, it is still far from meeting the global demand.

“Malayo pa (It’s still far), we are way behind as far as demand is concerned. Based on our vision, we want to achieve 10,000 metric tons,” Turtur told SunStar Davao on May 27, 2022 at the launching of the Cacao Mindanao Chocolate Fair in SM City Davao.

According to Turtur, cacao plantations thrived in Davao Region in the 1970s but saw a slow decline that started during the late 1980s wherein other commodities, such as banana and coconut, took center stage.

Thus, the booming cacao and chocolate industry today is relatively young since it was not until the last decade, around the year 2011 or 2012, that the industry was revived.

"May Department of Agriculture (DA) program kasi na tumulong sa (The DA started a program that helped) farmers that started in 2008 but it took three to four years bago talaga nag flourish yung industry ng Davao (before we saw the industry in Davao flourish),” Turtur said.

The Paquibato District has the most cacao farms in Davao City and in Davao del Norte, the village of Sawata in the municipality of San Isidro has 4,000 hectares. But the Third District of Davao City, which covers Calinan, Marilog, and Baguio districts, has the biggest producers in terms of volume.

Through this, Davao became known to produce 80 percent of the local demand for cacao in the country, the remaining 20 percent comes from other areas in the Philippines, particularly still in Mindanao.

Since production is still low for the global market, the current goal of the industry is to produce quality beans and cacao products.

Turtur said pure cacao tablea is still the most famous product, but the industry has also been delving into different variants of high-quality dark chocolates -- some of which have won gold awards globally like home-grown Malagos Chocolate at the World Drinking Chocolate Competition in 2020 and Auro Chocolate at the International Chocolate Awards in 2021.

“The good thing is, other than Malagos, naa na pud nag develop na mga bagong chocolate na brands so nalipay ta ana but karon, sa tibuok Mindanao or sa Pilipinas, daghan na pud nag himo of chocolate but of course, since nailhan ta, even if muadto ka sa lain lugar sa Pilipinas, they are thinking of Davao chocolate,” Turtur said.

(The good thing is, other than Malagos, others are developing their own chocolate brands, but other places in Mindanao and the Philippines have also been making their own chocolates. Fortunately, here in Davao, we are known, so even if you go to other places in the country, they are thinking of Davao chocolate.)

Other Davao local chocolatiers have been popping up, like El Ray’s Chocolab, which is also one of the exhibitors at the Chocolate Fair.

Starting as a cacao farm trading dry and wet cacao beans, the family-owned business has recently ventured into chocolate-making.

“Recently just this year, upon the encouragement of other cacao growers here in Davao, naisipan ng brother ko to come up with a product na mag add ng value sa cacao beans namin,” Liza Pareño of El Ray’s Chocolab said.

Other than fine tablea, variants of dark chocolates, and cacao nibs, the family is also keen on inventing new chocolate products, like their Kutsara de Tsokolate.

“(This) is actually tablea na per spoon, good for one cup siya na chocolate drink (It’s tablea per spoon which is good for one cup of chocolate drink). Pwede mo siya i-dissolve sa (You can dissolve it in) one cup of water and you can add sugar or milk if you like,” Pareño said.

The cacao industry has also been attracting foreign investors, one of which is the international brand Puratos which uses Davao cacao beans for their Chocolante Philippines Dark 62 percent chocolate coins.

For every cacao sale of Davao farmers to Puratos, ten Euro cents are given to the farmers which consolidates to at least P60,000 a year given by Puratos.

“Every year, si Puratos muanhi diri sa davao, sa isa ka tuig nakahalin sila og one ton, naay equivalent na money depende sa volume na ilang ginabaligya,” Rhodel Antonio, Davao sales executive of Puratos, said.

(Puratos comes to Davao and gives subsidy per sale, which also depends on the volume produced.)

As of now, the industry, along with Cidami, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, and Department of Science and Technology continues to implement different projects and benefits to help the cacao farmers

“Naa sila continuing program para sa atong cacao farmers og sa atong chocolate processors (They have continuing programs for cacao farmers and chocolate processors),” Turtur said, which includes farming technology, hardware and equipment for chocolate-making, and grants for start-ups to begin their chocolate processing business.

The industry is now focusing on promoting sales and marketing of the chocolate sector after it was affected during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic through face-to-face promotion and exhibits such as the Cacao Mindanao Chocolate Fair.

"We don't have much problem sa cacao, sa commodity because ang trading permanenete (the trading is continuous) but the chocolate industry, medyo nag laylow siya gamay so karon, since nag hinay ta ballik sanormal, nakasugod na ta baligya (lay low for a while but since we are slowly getting back to normal, we are starting to sell well again),” Turtur said.

To support the cacao and chocolate industry, especially Davao City and Davao Region with this new chapter as the cacao and chocolate capital, Turtur urges the public to support local.

“You go local, buy local. That’s how we encourage our consumers to support our farmers,” he said.