TWO cacao farmers associations in Zamboanga City have started supplying dried cacao beans to Hershey chocolate-associated Kennemer Foods International, with volume expected to increase by next year.

The Tolosa Buffer Zone Association (TBZA) and the Salaan Buffer Zone Association (SBZA), with around 50 farmer-member each, have successfully cultivated an estimated 8.2 hectares of cacao land in Zamboanga City.

The associations are supplying an initial 10 to 20 sacks of dried cacao beans supplied to Kennemer Foods per month.

Another market for their cacao beans is the JAS Agri-ventures Inc.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources just conducted in August a five-day training for farmers in Tolosa on cacao farming. The Zamboanga cacao farmers committed to supply the international firms with their dried cacao beans while being able to contribute to sustainability of the watershed Pasonanca Natural Park.

"By the middle of next year (2022), we will have been ready to harvest from more cacao areas that we helped rehabilitate," said Dr. Reynaldo Navacilla, field manager of Protect Wildlife.

Protect Wildlife, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, is a consortium of agencies helping the watershed natives to learn agriculture and agroforestry in exchange for destructive wildlife practices.

The cacao farms of TBZA and SBZA have helped forest communities within the Pasonanca Natural Park to sustain a livelihood for themselves.

"Some of them used to poach wildlife in the area. Some of them used to get firewood in the forests in order to produce charcoal sold to bakeries downtown. With a livelihood now, the majority of them no longer do these destructive practices," said Navacilla.

As to their agroforestry and intercropping practices, the farmers are able to help conserve soil, reduce soil erosion and stabilize slopes in the mountains.

The Pasonanca Natural Park is an important watershed that contains the headwaters of the Tumaga River in southern Zamboanga Cordillera Mountain. It is the source of water for nearly 1 million residents in Zamboanga City.

It covers an area of 10,560 hectares of forest reserve and is the largest remaining old growth dipterocarp forest in Zamboanga.