DILIMAN, Quezon City—Cacao, which was first brought to the country in the 17th century, remains at the center of Filipino culture and is claiming its spot to be one of the biggest industries in the country today.
“Cacao was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish around 1670 and was first planted in a church yard. According to some records, cacao is believed to be first grown in Batangas. The Philippines is first in Asia to start planting cacao and consume chocolate,” Josephine Ramos, president of the Organization for Partnerships, Teamwork and Initiatives on Opportunities for Nature Stewards, Inc., said.
This was during the free seminar on cacao production and processing led by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI). Ramos served as a resource person who shared the factors to be considered and practices adopted in producing quality cacao beans.
In particular, Ramos talked about genetics; environmental considerations including soil and climatic requirements; farm establishment and management practices; pests and diseases; and post-harvest practices. She also discussed some gaps in producing quality beans in the country.
“Many farmers are aware that cacao beans should be fermented, yet they do not ferment or do not know how to ferment. Studies show that, to bring out its aroma, cacao beans need to be fermented. People need to know that fermentation is neither costly nor difficult, but a really simple process,” she stressed.
Another concern, she added, is that many farmers tend to sell right away, even at a lower price, and that traders do not offer premiums for fermented beans. Ramos emphasized that these issues need to be addressed as these “influence farmers’ reluctance to wait and add value to cacao beans.”
As she discussed farm practices, Ramos explained the advantage of intercropping and improved plant spacing to enhance soil and water conservation. She furthered that integrated pest management and use of organic fertilizers should also be promoted.
Cacao expert Marigel Bacalso, from Quezon-based Four K Kakao Farm, supported this practice as she talked about cacao processing during the second part of the seminar.
“Cacao is ideal for coconut intercropping. It is a good alternative source of income for coconut plantation,” she said.
Citing some of locally made award-winning chocolate manufacturers such as Theo & Philo, Manila Chocolatiers, and Malagos, Bacalso noted the Filipino expertise in making chocolates for domestic and international markets.
Bacalso, likewise, discussed different types of chocolates, namely, dark, semi-sweet, bittersweet, white, and unsweetened. The participants also learned from her some of the health benefits from this food product.
“Chocolate has excellent nutrition as it contains antioxidant. It also has fiber and is good for the heart as it improves blood circulation,” Bacalso stated.
Aside from chocolates, other materials and by-products can be sourced from the remaining parts of the cacao tree. The cacao pod husk, for example, can be used to make animal feeds and fertilizer. Bacalso also shared other uses for the pulp, bean shell, butter content, and leaves of cacao.
A look back at cacao’s role in Filipino heritage inspired health advocate Dona Vergara to share how growing and harvesting cacao used to be a form of bonding for their family. As she expressed her gratitude for the seminar, she called on fellow enthusiasts to form a community to support this industry.
“I encourage all enthusiasts to plant cacao because it offers many opportunities. I consider [cacao farming] to be a revolution in the Philippines. It will not be difficult for us if we have the patience. I also hope that we can form small communities, especially within the provinces, to help this industry,” Vergara, a native of Catanduanes, said.
This latest free seminar offering from the ATI gathered around 170 participants from different parts of the country. It was held on August 23 at the ATI Rural Development and Education Center in this city.