Many people love to eat chocolates ranging from various preparations like bars, drinks and cakes, especially during the Christmas holidays. But very few chocolate lovers hardly realize chocolate’s importance in providing livelihood to millions of smallholder farmers and alleviating poverty, especially in the countryside.
So there should be really no guilt among chocolate lovers because they are helping a lot of smallholder farmers of the commodity worldwide. But what about in the Philippines?
Although the Philippines has thousands of hectares of lands devoted to cacao, the country supplies only 1 percent of world demand and imports 50,000 metric tons every year. Based on research by InangLupa that I head, the Philippines will need 100,000 MT of dried cacao in 2020 and that’s only for domestic consumption.
That will require almost 50 to 70 million trees planted over an area ranging from 120,000 to 150,000 hectares.
Mindanao produces about 90 percent of the country’s cacao, and overall production was 4,466.52 MT in 2013 based on data from the Philippine Cacao Authority.
So there lies the opportunity for the country to produce more cacao and even supply the growing world market, of which demand is projected to hit 4.7 to 5 million MT that cacao-producing countries will find hard to fill in.
Although I have yet to see a solid program for the mass growing of cacao in the Philippines, there have been local efforts that are noteworthy like the establishment of 167 nurseries in Davao the Region that can produce 2.8 to 3 million seedlings per year. In short, much needs to be done!
When I was heading the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), one of the strategies I formulated and put into place was Inclusive and Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) that is built on four pillars: that markets motivate growth; that innovation accelerates growth; that inclusiveness ensures the poor benefit; and resiliency.
These are what can be done under the IMOD framework in expanding and modernizing the country’s cacao industry:
The Department of Agriculture (DA) should work on the development of new varieties and hybrids that will assure better yields and resistance to diseases, while private accredited nurseries must start providing better planting materials.
Over the short term, there is a need to subsidize the cost of planting materials and undertake training on nursery management. Also, there is a need to accredit all nurseries so these produce only quality planting materials.
For the long term, investment in research and development must be made on cacao given new challenges such
as climate change and the quality requirements of domestic and international markets.
Under IMOD, it is very important that farmers have access to secured markets so they would be willing to invest. Also, small holders should be encouraged to engage in “corporative” farming that would require the improvement of the block farming system.
With block farming, small holders can be organized and this can result in the reduction of the cost and delivery of extension services and facilitate credit flow. Block farms can range from 50 to 400 hectares.
Although there are new lands that can be developed for cacao, production in present plantations can be intensified while it can be intercropped in existing banana and coconut farms. Cacao can also be planted using the “multi-story” approach in agro-forestry or even in coconut plantations.
Intercropping cacao is a good measure because the tree starts producing pods after three to 3.5 years.
Farming practices should also be improved to increase the current average yield of cacao farms from 590 kilograms per hectare to about two MT per hectare. This can be achieved through soil mapping or identifying the areas where cacao could be grown more efficiently, and determining the micronutrients present cacao farms need for increased production.
Technical support should also be provided to existing and new cacao farms with adequately-trained experts and “master farmers” whose farms can be “models” because of their higher than average yields.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) can also be utilized so cacao farmers can get information ranging from good agricultural practices to market trends.
The post-harvest and processing of cacao beans are critical, because proper fermentation and drying is needed to remove unpleasant flavors. In the Davao Region, there are 27 fermentation facilities but the country will need more of those if lands planted to cacao are increased.
Farmers organized into production blocks should also be given support for the establishment of their own fermentation facilities. Or several farmer organizations can have one common service facility for fermenting and drying cacao beans. I heard the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) under the DA already have a package of technologies for fermenting and drying cacao beans, and these must be made available to organized cacao farmers and processors.
A good system for fermenting and drying cacao beans should include a fermentation box, mechanical dryer, bean sorter and storage to maintain the quality of the beans. Drying cacao beans under the sun usually results in poor quality and this practice should be stopped in favor of modern methods like mechanical drying that PhilMech is promoting.
The grinding of cacao beans can also be done with a village-level facility to replace the current practice of grinding in home-based enterprises.
When it comes to marketing cacao beans, there is a need to organize farmers for bulk trading to minimize transaction cost, and the primary target should be the international market, with multinational companies undertaking exporting operations and directly dealing with farms or through agencies.
Organizing farmers is also very important so they can become integrators or consolidators that can deal directly deal with multinationals or exporters.
Proof that the country can export high-quality cacao beans is Rob Crisostomo who ships loads of the commodity to Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest supplier of high quality chocolate.
Although exporting cacao beans should be the major program of the industry, there is no stopping farmers and entrepreneurs from manufacturing chocolate products. “Gourmet” or “artisan” products made by small or medium-scale firms are also becoming popular among chocolate lovers.
One good example is the “Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate” that won a Silver award in the 2015 International Chocolate Awards‘ World Drinking Chocolate Competition in the Dark Drinking Chocolate Category.
Since cacao is a perennial crop that can be productive for 25 years, it is a high-value crop that can help alleviate poverty in the countryside especially if a program for the commodity is undertaken using the IMOD strategy.
So just imagine how 50 to 70 million cacao trees planted over 120,000 to 150,000 hectares in the Philippines will help alleviate poverty in the countryside? So there should be really no guilt in consuming lots of chocolates.