Davao as chocolate capital
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2016 - 12:00am

I was browsing around SM’s Kultura and was glad to see Davao’s award winning chocolate product, made out of cacao grown in Duterte country, is now available. It isn’t cheap but we do have to pay for its world class quality and encourage our local farmers and entrepreneurs as well.

I am very fond of chocolate products, a confirmed chocoholic, so to speak. It helps that recent reports say dark chocolate is good for my health. I prefer the real somewhat bitter taste of dark chocolate and try to stay away from chocolate products adulterated with sugar.

Now, I don’t have to go imported. There is a Philippine made product I can patronize that is coming out of Davao. Since we also have a President from Davao and an Agriculture Secretary from Mindanao, perhaps the local cacao industry can find the support it needs to conquer the world.

I am told that Malagos, the Davao chocolate, has been winning international awards. So, what remains to be done is to help the farmers to produce more of that cacao and help the processors stay true to the high quality that enabled them to get international recognition.

I googled to check what the market looks like for cacao and was encouraged to see that there may be a world shortage soon. That’s bad for me as a consumer, but good news for our cacao producers. We must, however, help them ramp up production in time to benefit from rising cacao prices.

The website of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao (CIDAM) is very informative. According to one article there, they have launched the Philippine Cacao Challenge 2020 precisely to meet a cacao shortfall expected by that year.

The website says global demand for cacao has tripled since 1970. Two of the largest markets, Europe and the US, have had an average of three percent annual growth over the years. There is an expected deficit of one million MT in global supply by 2020.

 In the Philippines, the average annual cocoa consumption is 50,000 MT according to the Department of Agriculture, but the local supply is only around 10,000MT, making the country a net importer. The Philippine chocolate market is expected to reach 100,000 MT by 2020. This demand volume is what the Philippine Cacao Challenge commits to produce by 2020.

Some of the factors contributing to the increasing worldwide demand for cocoa include the growing awareness of chocolate’s health benefits; expanding range of applications in food, beverage, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and the  increasing disposable income of the middle class.

The focus for cacao growing is Mindanao, which accounts for 90 percent of the Philippine cacao production, and 80 percent coming from the Davao region alone. Majority of Mindanao cacao producers are small farm holdings.

Based on aggregate data from Philippine Provincial Agriculturist Offices (PAGROs), the Davao region has more than 20,000 hectares of cacao farms, with Davao City having the largest area of 6,060 hectares.

 So there… a good crop with a ready world and local market. This could be a good opportunity for a President from Davao to show what he can do to help an industry that is all set to produce a product we can be proud of in the world market.

Speaking of farmers, I received this e-mail from Joel Mangalindan DVM reacting to my column on Lifting Farmers out of Poverty. Here are his observations:

I completely agree with your statement “we do not have to tie down our farmers to just rice and condemn them to poverty.”

Targeting rice self sufficiency is a very populist policy that truly puts our farmers in poverty in perpetuity. Realistically, no matter how much the government spends to increase rice production, the Philippines is geographically, climatically, structurally, not conducive to reaching rice self-sufficiency as rice production costs are always on the high side.

 We lack year-round irrigation water. Water is plentiful in excess during the rainy season, and so limited during the dry season. And during rainy season typhoons (at least a dozen) damage crops, typically giving farmers less than 50:50 chance of landing a good crop.

The post rainy season is the only chance to get a reasonably better crop. But at this time water is scarce, so farmers resort to pumping out of deep wells and streams/rivers, leading to depletion of aquifers and the resulting intrusion of salt water, and drying up of streams/rivers, damaging ecosystems.

To support a hectare of rice crop for 110 days in the dry season, it will need a minimum of 10,000 cu.m. of water – that much! NIA/government sourced irrigation can only support effectively less than six percent of arable land.

Landholdings are now so small they cannot support an individual, much less a family. Since the CARP was implemented in the ‘70s, farmer landholdings now are typically below one hectare (if they still own it at this time).

It is estimated that over 75 per cent of CARP farmer landholdings have been sold or “nakasanla”. The farmer can never make enough to survive from planting rice in a small plot of land. Rice production can never achieve efficiency in small plots.

Our university/government agriculture scientists/ technicians are stuck in the past. Crop scientists are supposed to bring the industry at pace with updated, if not current technologies. But they keep coming out with/keep recommending grossly outdated technologies and describe them as breakthroughs!

The admission of the DA officials that they are still using ’70s soil sampling data is a glaring example of this fact.

The crop technical extension delivery is practically non-existent ever since it was devolved to the local government in1987. You don’t see government technicians in the field except when they are giving away fertilizers or accompanying politicians!

The agricultural production data of the DA is so doubtful because it is TABLE GENERATED. There has been no actual survey done by the regional offices since 1985, only table projections.

One data set was so funny (?) I literally fell out of my chair when they released the poultry population data of a town in Tarlac supposedly with 56,000 hd; I personally knew of 3 farms in the area with regular populations of over 2 million birds!

As you have quoted the new Secretary of Agriculture – “success in agriculture is all about correct and timely data ...”

The policy of protecting the local price of rice thru tariff protection will only perpetuate production inefficiency.  Rice imported from Vietnam costs around 480usd/MT CNF or 23pesos/kg compared to local palay at 17pesos/kg or as well milled rice at 35/kg – a whopping 50% on top of Vietnam rice. Inspite of this decades old protection, our farmers barely survive.

Definitely, most of our farmers need to be weaned out of planting rice, and diversify to other crops. There are a lot of potential cash crops out there, like better varieties of camote and cacao as you have mentioned.

Demand in western countries for other product forms like flour from gabi (taro), sweet potato, and coconut for baking are moving toward phenomenal volumes and are relatively easy to produce. 

FYI, I used to work with the DA starting the late 70’s for 18 years, retiring as regional agricultural research center chief and livestock sector chief in one of the regions, so I am well informed.

I moved to the private sector in 96, after completely paying off my dues to the government. I have been a happy weekend farmer in Pangasinan for the past 9 years.

And yes, I stopped planting rice 8 years ago. It’s just not worth it.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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