In a quest to revive the flagging cocoa sector in the Philippines, cocoa producer Malagos Agri- Venture Corporation’s founders, Roberto and Charita Puentespina, leased a 70ha farm in Malagos, Baguio District, Davao City in 2003, and rehabilitated the farm’s existing cacao trees there until they once again bore fruit.
The successful harvest prompted the company to partner with US confectionary company Mars’ Cocoa Sustainability Team in 2007 to set up the Mars Cocoa Development Centre.
“From them, we learnt to process high-quality beans that we were eventually able to export,” relates the couple’s son, Rex Victor Puentespina, who is also a farmer and chocolate maker for the company.
In turn, the Puentespina family passed on this knowledge to local farmers within the district.
Due to its location near the equator, cacao trees thrive in Philippine soil. According to the Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines, the country produces 6,000 tons of cacao beans a year, with about 80% coming from the Davao region.
“Growing cacao helps alleviate poverty, especially among the farmers,” says Puentespina. “In addition to our own harvest of cacao beans, we closely work with and source from more than 90 small farmers in the area.”
According to the Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines, the country produces 6,000 tons of cacao beans a year, with about 80% coming from the Davao region.
These farmers supply Malagos Agri-Ventures with wet beans. To ensure that the community practise sustainable farming methods, the Puentespina family allotted a small part of their farm to training facility for the farmers to learn good agricultural practices on cacao farming.
“This raised considerably the value of the cacao beans they harvested from their small farms, and multiplied their earnings from their crops landholdings,” says Puentespina. “We also employ more than 50 in-house farmers for our own farm. These are farmers who do not have their own land to till.”
The Malagos cacao farm grows Trinitario clones, a cross between the Criollo and Forastero varieties, specifically and predominantly the UF 18, BR 25 and PBC 123 clones. As with other farmers around the world, Filipino cacao farmers face a number of challenges in the field such as pests like cacao pod borers, which bore into pods and eat the pod’s flesh and causes rot. Financially, the farmers also do not have enough access to credit services.
However, Puentespina says the government is becoming more supportive, with help coming from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, the Export Marketing Bureau and various local governments in places where there are cacao farms.
While Puentespina believes that the Philippines will one day become a major producer of cacao beans in the region, he thinks that this would come gradually, with the country’s cocoa industry taking it one step at a time.
“There is now a concerted effort among the government agencies, cacao associations, nursery operators, processors, traders and farmer cooperatives to come up with policies relevant to the development of sustainable Philippine cocoa industry,” he notes.
“Cacao is now included in the list of high-value commercial crops.”