LIGAO CITY—The third congressional district of Albay is hopping on the bandwagon of commercial cacao production.
Its representative, Rep. Fernando Gonzalez, on Sunday here said that as much as possible, all lands covered by his district that are available and suited to cacao growing will be tapped into the commercial production of this crop, which the Department of Agriculture (DA) is grooming as another sunshine industry of Bicol next to coconut, pili and abaca.
The district covers this city and the six municipalities of Guinobatan, Jovellar, Pioduran, Oas, Polangui and Libon—all gifted with wide tracts of agricultural lands that boast of volcanic soil and tropical weather, making them suitable for cacao farming.
“We are starting with this in Jovellar, where the DA has recently distributed thousands of seedlings following a training-seminar on cacao production attended by hundreds of farmers and landowners who have shown keen interest on the venture,” Gonzalez said. Jovellar is a small and sleepy fifth-class municipality of around 17,000 people dominated by farmers currently producing copra, rice, abaca and corn.
The training and seedling distribution, according to Gonzalez, was part of a tie-up among his office, the DA regional office and the local government of Jovellar on cacao production reached to take advantage of the crop’s benefits both in terms of economic and health gains.
Widely called as the “food for the gods,” cacao bean is a major agricultural commodity traded worldwide with the reported health benefits of dark chocolate as the main driver in current market growth.
DA Regional Executive Director Abelardo Bragas said the tropical weather and volcanic soil in Albay and most parts of Bicol is suitable for cacao farming but, unfortunately, this important high-value commercial crop has not been given due importance by local farmers in the past.
He said during the Jovellar seedling-distribution affair attended by Gonzalez, his agency has already been able to develop warm acceptance of the smallholder cacao production approach among farmers who have renewed their interest and willingness to collaborate for the promotion of sustainable cacao production.
With this, he said, the DA is identifying more suitable areas in Bicol for cacao production, and maximizing the presence of markets that could be organized into workable production-market system.
Among the recently identified production sites is Jovellar and all the areas within the Albay Third District, where the DA, along with the Philippine Coconut Authority in cooperation with Gonzalez’s office and local government units, is developing model farms to serve as show window of coconut-cacao intercropping.
Gonzalez said this new venture is in line with the Aquino administration’s program on developing Bicol’s agriculture as key to the region’s exit from the malaise of poverty.
With almost 70 percent of its 1.8 million hectares total land area classified as agricultural—999,619 hectares of which are active and 203,373 hectares are expansion area, according to the latest land-use record of the DA—Bicol sits on the biggest farming area compared to all the other 16 regional subdivisions of the country.
And since the region is yet to graduate from its agriculture-based economy, it is just commendable that the regional development being carried out by the national government is now more focused on agricultural productivity, Gonzalez said.
The DA-Bicol cacao-industry development in the region, which saw widespread enthusiasm among farmers and other stakeholders, was started two years ago.
It also caught the attention of the CoOP-Natcco party-list which, through its congressional representative Anthony Bravo, organized last year the Cacao Farmers Association of Sorsogon under the umbrella of the South Luzon Federation of Cooperatives for a large-scale cacao-production program arranged with Kennemer Foods International Inc.
CFAS is a huge group of local farmers enlisted as cooperators of the cacao contract-growing program for the province while SLFC is the umbrella organization of all rural-based cooperatives in Bicol and the Southern Tagalog regions.
KFI, whose specialization is the trade and export of cocoa, is a foreign-invested agri-business with corporate and contract-farming operations throughout the Philippines.
The program was started with the establishment late last year of a two-hectare nursery in Barangay Macabog, Sorsogon City for the massive propagation of cacao seedlings intended for distribution to the cooperators.
Last July, a total of 170,000 seedlings out of the about one million propagated in the nursery, was distributed to 138 recipients representing the first batch of cooperators for intercropping with coconut in some 370 hectares farms in the province.
In October, the program will release the second batch of seedlings totaling 300,000 pieces to the next group of beneficiaries who agreed to follow the stringent farming procedure carrying a revised concept in order to achieve high cacao beans turnout in the future, according to Vladimir Frivaldo, the program coordinator.
After saturating Sorsogon, the next batches of seedlings will be made available to contract growing cooperators in all the other five provinces of Bicol up to the Southern Tagalog Region covered by the SLFC.
This way, the merging of these two regions into the cacao contract growing program will make the combined area the biggest source of the product that commands a good price and is extremely in demand worldwide, Frivaldo said.
The program is also implemented in partnership with the DA and the PCA which provide technologies in cacao intercropping with coconut and pili, a system that would give a farmer additional income estimated at P60,000 per hectare by producing quality-grade fermented dry cacao beans at about 500 trees per hectare.