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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Cacao is back; Davao Region rides the resurgence

THE cacao industry in Davao Region has come a long way. Back when cacao farmers were demoralized due to policy reforms, stumbling market prices, and economic crisis, the industry is now revitalized and it has been blossoming ever since.

The country as a whole was producing around 35,000 metric tons during the late 70's up to the mid 80's. But due to the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), many big time cacao farmers were forced to relinquish portions of their farms to the farmers.

It then started a snowball which saw farms turning unproductive due to the mishandling of unskilled farmers. Farmers back then were also forced to leave their cacaos since market prices were plummeting. And adding to these problems, the demand for cacao was essentially low hence, farmers before were basically fighting a losing battle.

Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao Inc. (Cidami) executive director Valente Turtur described the early 90s as the dark age of the cacao industry in Davao Region since not only were the cacao farms left for dead, they were even cut down.

"The farmers just chose to leave the cacao industry because they can't expect any activity since the market prices were low and the demand has also low because of the economic crisis. Basically, they just had to forget cacao," Turtur told Sun.Star Davao.

Revival of the Industry

Turtur said the country was already trying to put itself back in the global cacao industry picture in 2004 after it got help from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Success Alliance program. Projects, however, were implemented in Luzon.

In 2007, Davao Region became part of the program but it was apparent that the program didn't sit well for the cacao industry in the region since its effects weren't felt that much and there was no take off in the industry. Puentespina Farms and Chokolate de San Isidro, however, were already establishing their respective niche in the market being the only recognized cacao traders in the region. Puentespina Farms made a partnership with Mars, Inc. which led to the creation of the Mars Cocoa Development Center, a training center for cacao farmers. Chokolate de San Isidro, meanwhile, was already mass producing chocolate tablets or tablea.

But in 2009, the US Department of Agriculture introduced the coconut, cocoa, palay (Cocopal) program and Davao Region became part of it. The prices of cacao per kilo then went up to P80 hence, more and more farmers have grown their interest back in cacao.

The following year then became the advent of the revival of the cacao industry when Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI-VOCA) conducted a cacao forum. It was in that forum where farmers sparked an interest anew in cultivating cacao after Mars Inc. declared that the demand has grown.

With a reinvigorated interest cacao, various stakeholders in the private sector gathered up and held a series of meetings to discuss how they could revive the industry.

By 2011, Cidami was established and they became the forerunners when it comes to empowering cacao farmers and traders in the region. In the following year, the cacao industry earned the support of the government as the Department of Agriculture (DA) provided funds and seedlings, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) helped out in organizing forums while the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) included cacao in the National Greening Program.

The production of cacao in Davao Region from 2011 to the current year has then grown significantly as Turtur said, "Our production has more than doubled in the span of five years. In 2011, we were producing around 5,000 metric tons. But in 2015 we produced more than 12,000 metric tons."

Best Practices

The boom of the cacao industry in the span of five years can be attributed to the best practices that the cacao farmers have undergone.

In the farming aspect, Turtur said that the bread and butter in maintaining the quality of the cacao fruits has always been pruning and putting sleeves on the cacao fruits or pods as what the farmers call them. This method, Turtur said, is called pod-sleeving.

Turtur said pruning refers to the trimming of unnecessary branches on the cacao trees. This technique is effective for pest control, disease prevention and nutrient absorption on the cacao plants.

With the use of pruning, cacao farmers can control pests like pod burrowers since these pests thrive on gloomy environments.

Turtur also said that cutting off the unnecessary branches allows more sunlight to bring heat to the trees which will in turn thwart the development of fungal infections such us pod rot. He added if you leave these unnecessary branches the tendency is these branches will absorb the nutrients instead of those productive branches.

Yet there are simply instances when diseases and infestations can't be averted. This is when pod-sleeving comes in handy since sealing the pods with plastic or paper can prevent pod burrowers and pod rot from destroying fruit. A well-timed schedule for the application of fungicides and pesticides is also a must since trees may become more vulnerable to diseases if these chemicals are abused.

Turtur also suggested that farmers should utilize service alleys for better farm mobility and trash alleys from where decomposable wastes could be thrown away until it becomes a fertilizer. He also said that while organic fertilizers are good, applying synthetic fertilizers can still play a huge part in providing nutrients to the plant.

As for the business aspect, Turtur said farmers should also think like entrepreneurs or what he refers to as "agropreneurs." In a bid to help farmers become more well-versed in the business aspect of cacao farming, Turtur urged them to attend investment forums which they organize in partnership with DA and DTI.

Suggested Reforms

Sharing his concern over how the support from the government has been delivered, Turtur said that DA should be more holistic in its approach citing that in some instances, there are programs where the agency merely gives free cacao seedlings to farmers, who are mostly lacking in management skills. He said that, that if DA can't provide the technical skills and management training, at least they could coordinate with Cidamiso that they would be the one conducting the training.

Furthermore, the El Nino phenomenon has significantly affected the production of cacao for the past months. Hence, he urged DA to pour in more funds for the construction of water irrigation systems instead of giving out free seedlings.

Lastly, an organized monitoring system on the progress of farms as well as the market prices should be established so that farmers will have some sort of quota to target.

Turtur said that during the first cacao forum in the region back in 2010, Mars, Inc. declared the world will have a one-million metric ton deficit by 2020 and the Philippines should have produced around 100,000 metric tons by then.

Yet in the pace that the cacao industry in Davao Region has been currently moving, the cacao players here are optimistic that they can cope up with the demand. And it's not just about meeting the demand. Most importantly, the cacao industry aims to alleviate poverty among the farmers while improving the economic status of the region.
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