By Danny O. Calleja
PILI, Camarines Sur, (PNA) -– The Department of Agriculture (DA) in Bicol is providing local farmers with the latest technology on the growing of cacao (Theobroma cacao) as a step towards making the region a major producer of this high-value crop.
DA Regional Executive Director Abelardo Bragas said the agency, through its Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) based at the Bicol University College of Agriculture and Forestry complex in Guinobatan, Albay, is focusing on commercial cacao production in its conduct of technology transfer training for Bicolano farmers and extension workers.
So far, Bragas said, dozens of agricultural extension workers (AEWs) and farmers from all over the region are already equipped with the latest technology on cacao growing and processing through the ATI training program.
This training program is mandated under Republic Act 7900 or the High-Value Crops Development Act of 1995 that provides assistance for production, marketing and processing of cacao and other high-value crops, he said.
DA’s High-Value Commercial Crops Program (HVCDP) also gives assistance to producers of this crop concerning crop insurance, credit, post-harvest facilities, good seeds and planting materials and fiscal incentives, according to Bragas.
The training addresses DA’s goal to steer farmers towards generating high income.
It also equips AEWs with the latest package of technologies for cacao production, post-harvest knowledge and proper equipment in crop cultivation.
These AEWs, mostly employed by local government units, and the trained farmers are now spreading in Bicol farming communities the technologies and good words about cacao whose seeds are traditionally being processed to produce chocolate bars and drinks.
With this so far, Bragas said, Bicol has already “a good number” of farmers intercropping cacao with other traditional crops such as pili and coconut, a good farming practice that is projected to give a farmer additional income estimated at P60,000 per hectare by producing quality-grade Fermented Dry Cacao Beans at about 500 trees per hectare.
“We are continuously initiating activities to develop warm acceptance of the smallholder cacao production approach among farmers and renew their interest and willingness to collaborate for the promotion of sustainable cacao production,” he said.
Apart from these, he said, the DA is identifying more suitable areas in Bicol for cacao production and maximizing the presence of markets that could be organized into workable production-market system.
The region has 242,644 hectares of coconut land and at least 10 percent of it or 24,264 hectares can be inter-cropped with cacao, Bragas explained.
If 500 cacao trees will be planted under these coconut trees, a farmer will get 1.5-kilo cacao yield per tree that if sold at P65.00 per kilo will earn for the farmer an income of P48,750 per cropping season.
In 2010, world grindings of cocoa beans was at 3.6 metric tons (MT), reflecting an average annual increase of 2.1 percent from previous years.
Consumption is concentrated in developed counties, which account for 64 percent of world cocoa consumption and projected to increase at an annual rate of 2.2 percent.
In Japan, imports have increased from an annual average at 48,000 MT in 1998-2000 to 56,000 MT in 2010.
Market estimates have it that premium chocolate sales will continue to expand, commanding 25 percent of the market and generating US$ 4.5 billion in sales yearly.
Although cacao grows readily in the Philippines, the country has a hard time joining the international market.
In fact, Philippines imports about 30,000 tons cocoa products in the form of beans, powder, butter, and liquor annually because Filipino farmers can only produce about 6,000 tons of cocoa every year.
The country, however, according to Bragas, could be one of the biggest producers of the crop in Asia — along with Malaysia and Indonesia.
This can be achieved only if some 500 million more cacao trees would be made growing in about 150,000 to 200,000 hectares of land in the next eight years.
By 2020, the country can produce 100,000 tons of cacao beans.
Bragas said Bicol’s climatic conditions and soil characteristics support cocoa growing and “we are taking advantage of these in increasing interest in production among local farmers by way of training them on latest technology and informing them on the local and international demand for cocoa products whose world prices have been constantly favorable.
Widely called as the “foods for the gods,” cocoa bean is a major agricultural commodity traded worldwide, he added.