Sweet Success

Published July 7, 2019, 12:00 AM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Antonio Colina IV

DAVAO CITY – The Davao Region’s cacao industry was barely a blip on the radar when the global demand for chocolate saw an exponential rise.

Department of Trade and Industry- Davao assistant regional director Edwin Banquerigo (DTI)
Department of Trade and Industry- Davao assistant regional director Edwin Banquerigo (DTI)

This prompted several well-intentioned industry pioneers to start a crusade to revive the dying interest of the local farmers and bring locally grown cacao from Davao to the world.

Efforts to make the region, known as the Philippines’ chocolate and cacao capital, a significant player in the global market niche for fine flavor cacao are starting to bear fruit.

Lately, more local chocolate players take center stage in the international market, thanks to the industry pioneers who worked hard to put Davao’s fine flavor cacao on the global map.

Department of Trade and Industry- Davao assistant regional director Edwin Banquerigo, who is also part of the secretariat of the Philippine Na­tional Cacao Industry Council, said Davao, the largest cacao producer in the Philippines, has been taking on a “big brother role” to other regions that are aspiring to start cacao farming to reap sweet success as did cacao farmers from Davao.

Davao, in effect, has become a source not only of the raw materials and finished products but also of the technology and the knowledge to capacitate the farmers in bring­ing “the country’s cacao and chocolate to a higher level,” he said. “The expansion in other regions is really significant, and the source of planting materials came from Davao and the transfer of technology was from Davao, including the training.

Most of them took their cacao master training here in Davao,” he said.

He said finding artisanal chocolate mak­ers to join their trade fair was a challenge not long ago.

But everything has changed now because of the growing number of homegrown local chocolate startups who could barely secure a spot in their chocolate pavilion during food expos as space becomes relatively small to take all of them in, according to Banquerigo.

“We were able to change the landscape of the Philippine cacao industry,” he said.

He said their appeal to farmers to plant cacao trees did not fall on deaf ears.

Areas planted to cacao in other regions had expanded significantly, encouraging more startups to venture into premium dark choco­late making.

He added they hope to empower small farm­ers who produce 90 percent of the total cacao beans produced in the country.

“Chocolate makers from Cordillera used to get their supply of beans in the Divisoria, and these beans came from Davao, but they are now to get beans from the locally grown trees,” he said.

He said the area planted to cacao trees was 64,693 hectares, but only 40 percent of which are produced as of 2017.

Nearly half of the coun­try’s total land area planted to cacao came from Davao Region with 29,000 hectares.

Banquerigo said the remaining unproduc­tive 60 percent are expected to bear fruits in two years.

He said the country targets to plant 50 mil­lion cacao trees and increase the productivity level from 1 kilo per tree to 2 kilos per tree to reach the production target of 100,000 metric tons annually by 2022 as stated in the 2017 to 2022 Philippine Cacao industry Roadmap.

But Cacao Industry Development Associa­tion of Mindanao (CIDAMI) executive director Valente Turtur said the industry has a lot of work to do to achieve if the country wants to hit even a quarter of its ambitious target in a span of three years.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Author­ity (PSA) showed the country’s production level in the country had reached only 7,983 metric tons (MT) in 2018, and 81 percent of which came from Davao Region.

From 2008 to 2018, the data also showed that the production had only grown by 2,834 MT or 55.04 percent.

Philippines’ cacao production is insignificant compared to one million MT a year from Ivory Coast, 800,000 MT from Ghana, and 400,000 MT from Indonesia, Turtur said.

Turtur, a cacao farmer himself, admitted that the 100,000 MT might just be too ambitious a target for the Philippines, but added a bright future still awaits the local cacao industry for the global niche market for the fine flavor cacao.

For a small country like the Philippines, Banquerigo recognizes the country’s supply lack to compete in the bulk market.

The country, which ranked 72 percent in terms of cacao exports with a global market share of less than 0.01 percent, remains a net importer of cocoa to meet the annual national grinding requirement of 40,000 MT, according to him.

He agreed that the country must focus on improving the quality of its beans instead of quantity to tap the global market for premium chocolate, the market they want for the Davao cacao players, which pays higher compared to the bulk market price.

“The main thrust of the council or by the industry is to go for premium beans. Premium beans mean a premium price. We don’t need to compete in bulk market because in the bulk market you are controlled by the world market price,” he said.

“As you go for premium beans, you are tar­geting the niche market where the price is really higher in the international competition. That’s where the real money is,” he added.

Some 40 percent of the country’s total production is fermented, which means these are of “fine premium” quality used only for fine flavor tablea and artisan dark chocolates, according to him.