The Lovely Couple who cultivates ‘Tree of Love’

“Ang kakaw sama ra sa tawo, kung dili nato paimnun, dili nato pakan-on, malnourished ang resulta dii pud muhatag ug sakto nga bunga nimo, busa sama sa tawo amumahon gyud nato ang kakaw aron muhatag ug tam-is nga bunga. (Cacao is like a human, if we will not provide them water to drink and food to eat, it will be undernourished and will not give us more fruits, that’s why we should nurture cacao for it to bear sweet fruit)”. Melona Solana said during the interview.

A 62-year old Aling Melona is an Outstanding Farmer of Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte. She was one of the Barangay Agricultural Workers (BAWs) who was awarded as the ‘Best BAW’ during the BAWs Congress in 2016 held at the Agricultural Training Institute-Regional Training Center (ATI-RTC) 13.
Aling Melona is known to be an active leader in their community. Aside from being a president of the Cabadbaran Cacao Growers Association Inc., she also holds positions in several organizations such as the Calamba Farmers Association, Senior Citizen Organization, Barangay Agricultural and Fishery Council (BAFC) and a lot more.

Farm Partner

Mang Nathaniel and Aling Melona managed their 1.5-hectare cacao farm intercropped with banana, coconut, fruit trees and vegetables at Brgy. Calamba, Cabadbaran City.
As farm partner, the couple worked hand in hand from planting up to harvesting cacao fruits even to the packaging of their homemade ‘tablea’.

Aling Melona shares her knowledge acquired from trainings on cacao production to Mang Nathaniel as her partner in the farm. She also teaches her neighbors and members of the organizations about the cultural management practices of producing cacao along with the other high value crops during meetings.

The couple toured us in their cacao farm and demonstrated several steps in pruning. They even shared some tips on how to take care of the cacao seedlings as well as preventing pests and diseases. “If we will not do the pruning, cacao trees may be infested with pests and diseases. We will cut small branches by 40cm” said Aling Melona. “We will eliminate also those water sprouts so that nutrients will be directly absorbed by the fruits,” added Mang Nathaniel.

They even let us taste their deliciously made hot chocolate drink popularly known as ‘sikwate’ made from tablea. This is one of their processed and packaged business enterprise accredited by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). This is also through the combined support of the Local Government Unit of Cabadbaran together with the Provincial and City Agriculture Offices of Agusan del Norte.

They acquired cacao seedlings from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) along with the other equipment such as grinder, moisture meter, reservoir, water pump and hose from the Department of Agriculture.

The couple also served as farmer-cooperators of the Farmers’ Field School (FFS) on cacao production that was conducted by the ATI-RTC 13 under the High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) way back 2017.

“You may visit here anytime for free, if you want to know more about cacao, I’m willing to share the knowledge I gained from the training of ATI and the best practices that we applied in our own cacao farm” invites Aling Melona.

“The cacao farm is our stress-reliever, every morning we say hello to our cacao trees, we used to breathe deeply with fresh air passing through our nostrils and feel the breeze of the clapping leaves and get relaxed,” detailed Aling Melona.

According to her, if anybody get stressed from work and other hassles in life, just visit their stress-relieving cacao farm and stress will be gone.

On the other hand, Mang Nathaniel also gave a piece of advice in taking care of cacao specifically on its seedling stage as well as the prevention from the attacks of pests and diseases using organic fertilizer.
The couple started planting cacao in 2015 with two clones of a certain variety, the BR25 and UF 18. They have reaped the first fruits of their labor in 2017 and counting.

Thanks, ATI

“Without the learnings that I got from the trainings of ATI on how to cultivate cacao and other crops, I may not be here talking to you about our farm”, Melona recalled. She is thankful to ATI for the series of training she attended under the High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) such as cacao, banana, vegetable production and a lot more.

Advice to beginners

“I encourage all farmers specifically to those beginners in planting cacao to attend trainings at ATI since this Institute will teach us all about farming”, Melona stressed.

How they start?

For six years in Brgy. Calamba, Aling Melona was able to produce fresh and organic vegetables and vend to her neighbors and friends. This enabled them to support and send their five children to school.

The couple started their living from El Salvador, Misamis Oriental for 15 years. They then transferred to Butuan City for seven years. Aling Melona helped her driver husband by selling various products and have their own “painitan” in the market. They also used to live in Cavite City with Mang Nathaniel as a construction worker.

Their hardwork had paid off because today, one of their children worked as a government employee and three others in private companies.

Trying Times

They didn’t have any experience about farming at first. Aling Melona’s father is a fisherman and she didn’t have any idea on how to farm. “The time when we were about to start, we borrowed Php 6,000 from a lending firm to finance the inputs for the farm.” Aling Melona recalled. The couple also experienced the attacks of pests and diseases in cacao.

“My husband is my sole partner in farming since then. Today, we learned together how to plant cacao and prevent pests and diseases attacks by applying organic fertilizers or those concoctions I learned from the training on organic agriculture, since I attended the training so I myself should do the planting.” Aling Melona professes.

On Cacao

According to the source, cacao plants is currently one of the country’s key crops with a huge potential in the world market. The Philippines produces more than 10,000 metric tons of cacao per year and exports about $6 million worth to the international market. The country, however, imports more than $100 million worth of cacao from other cocoa-producing countries. This was introduced in the Philippines through a Spanish friar in 1670.

Filipinos are now into massive production of cacao because it has a promising demand in the market. Some of its by-products aside from chocolates are cacao liquor, cacao wine, and cacao charcoal. It can be made also into vinegar and paper and a lot more. According to study, cocoa is the most powerful antioxidant food and known as the ‘Super Healthy Fruit’. It also served as one of the healthiest fruits commonly eaten by man. Recent research studies have shown a link between cocoa and cardiovascular health, with reduced risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.

According to Aling Melona, cacao is also known as the “Tree of Love” because every time a gentleman courts a beautiful lady, he would always bring with her a bunch of sweet chocolates and a bouquet of flowers to show his oozing love and adoration to a lady.

Together, Forever

Mang Nathaniel and Aling Melona are the living testimony that age doesn’t matter in farming. In fact, they were there for each other, helping hand in hand. Together in farming, FOREVER.