Davao City wants to be PH's top cocoa producer

By Keith Bacongco, BusinessMirror

Posted at Oct 05 2011 07:33 AM | Updated as of Oct 05 2011 03:33 PM

DAVAO CITY—With world demand for cocoa constantly growing each year, the city government here is striving to become the country’s top cocoa producer.

But instead of bringing in more large-scale investors, the city government is prioritizing small farmers through its constant education program, technical assistance and market linkages.

Leonardo Avila III, the city’s Agriculture Office chief, said there might be no need for the large-scale plantation type because cacao can be planted along with other high-value crops even in the city’s hinterlands.

Instead of pushing for a plantation-type setup, Avila said they are encouraging farmers to engage in diversified farming since cacao can be inserted within the existing farms already planted with crops like coconut, coffee and durian.

The city’s cacao development program started in October last year and aims to plant the crop in at least 1,000 hectares a year, he said.

“We are continuously educating small farmers, conducting trainings and nurturing cacao seedlings in our nursery,” said Avila, a former city councilor.

He said the growing demand in the local and world market pushed the city government to promote cacao among small farmers.

Currently, cocoa from the  Davao region is sold to Europe and THE US markets, the official said. 

Aside from the market demand, Avila said the city has seen the potentials of the terrain and the city’s climate condition for cacao farming.

“Not everyone likes to eat durian while cacao has a potential market here and abroad. Everybody wants to eat chocolate and consumption of chocolate is growing,” he added.

Data at the World Cocoa Foundation web site showed that chocolate product consumption has been growing at around 3 percent per annum. From 5.5 million tons in 2001, it rose to 6.5 million tons last year.

Marilyn Carubio, Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines technical adviser for Mindanao, said the country produces 6,000 tons of cocoa a year, 80 percent of which is from the Davao region.

Carubio said that production in the Davao region, particularly in the city, will increase in the coming years given the persistent advocacy of the city government.

The price range of dried cocoa beans in the local market is at P100 to P125 per kilo, while wet cacao beans cost P28 to P32 per kilo.

With the opening of the Cacao Agribusiness Zone Center in barangay Talandang in Tugbok District, she expressed hope that more farmers will now engage in cacao farming.

The facility, which was opened in January this year, has a 24-ton capacity fermentation boxes, sets of solar dryers and hybrid (artificial and solar) dryers, a central nursery, budwood garden, and a training hall.

“We are offering free training to the farmers. We can either go to the barangays or conduct it here in the center,” she said in an interview.

Carubio also disclosed that they offer drying, fermenting and sorting of cacao beans for P15 per kilo, adding that the beans are ready for the market after these processes. She said it takes 10 days to complete these procedures.

Carubio said that as of July this year, they have already disposed 75,000 seedlings to the farmers for P20 each. “We are also aiming to sell 100,000 seedlings by the end of the year.”   

Aside from cacao farmers from the city, there are farmers from South Cotabato having their beans processed in the facility.

Cacao Agribusiness Zone Centers are also in Dapitan City in Zamboanga del Norte and Montevista, Compostela Valley.

Dario Divino, CAO’s industrial crops specialist, cited the areas of Calinan, Marilog, Paquibato, Toril and Tugbok districts as suitable lands for cacao farming.

“If a farmer has a hectare of coconut trees, let’s say if he can insert about 900 cacao trees, that’s an additional income already. That’s at least P150,000 of extra income,” Dario said in an interview.

He added that a cacao tree can yield around 1.5 to two kilos of dried beans or around a ton of dried cacao beans per hectare.

As part of developing agroforestry program of the city, Avila said they have chosen cacao since it is a low-maintenance crop.

He added that the through the Sustainable Agroforestry for Rural Upland Communities program, it can help conserve the watershed areas of the city and can be a tool in poverty alleviation.

Divino expressed the same views, saying that unlike mango, cacao does not need a lot of chemicals to be able to produce high yields.

“Cacao can thrive anywhere; it can adopt in our climate. It doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Look at the farmers in very remote areas. They can still produce a good harvest of cacao without using any chemical or synthetic fertilizers. But for mangoes, you need to spend a lot of money in spraying chemicals to have a good harvest,” said Divino, who used to work as a supervisor in a plantation company.

Carubio considers cacao as a “friendly crop” since even the women can work in the cacao farm. “Even the kids can harvest the fruits because the tree is not really tall, the women can help in pruning.”

Divino added that this is the reason the city is focusing on small farmers because they (farmers) can easily adapt to the technology.

“The problem with plantations is that if the owners changes their mind and they want to plant another crop, you have to cut down the cacaos. This is what happened in our company before,” the agriculturist added.

Avila said the city has a total of 162,000 hectares of agricultural land,105,000 of which is classified for agroforestry development.  The area can be developed into a productive land through the agroforestry program, he said.

Aside from cacao, crops like cassava, coffee, coconut, durian and rubber are also being eyed to be promoted under the program.

As of June 10, data from the CAO showed that the current cacao farm is 1,139 hectares. These are in Calinan, Baguio, Tugbok, Toril, Paquibato and Marilog districts.

Avila said these are also the same areas they are eyeing for agroforestry development.

The data also showed that on top of the list is coconut with 16,000 hectares followed by corn (8,328 hectares), Cavendish banana  (6,411 hectares), mango (4,133 hectares), durian (3,462 hectares, Lakatan banana (2,034 hectares), pineapple (1,706 hectares.) banana tundan (1,341 hectares), rice (1,310 hectares.), and cacao.

As part of the program, Avila said the city is now maintaining a five-hectare central nursery in Malagos district and eight satellite nurseries spread out in the barangays within the five watershed areas of Davao River, Lasang, Talomo, Lipadas and Sibulan.