Thursday, March 3, 2016

COOP-NATCCO eyes establishment of massive cacao plantations in Catanduanes
By Danny O. Calleja

SORSOGON CITY, March 2 (PNA) -- The Cooperative National Confederation of Cooperatives (COOP-NATCCO) Partylist is looking at the establishment of vast cacao plantations intercropped with coconut in Catanduanes.

Confident that the plan will materialize making use of at least 25 percent or around 4,000 hectares of the province’s nearly 15,000 hectares of coconut farms, Anthony Bravo, the partylist representative, said the island can produce two metric tons (MTs) of high quality cacao beans yearly for a total additional farmers’ income of as much as USD 6,000 from export.

It will be part of ambitious cacao production project that COOP-NATCCO is initiating in Bicol in an effort to make the region, whose economy is primarily agricultural, the country’s largest producer of this high-value crop.

Started in Sorsogon province with the establishment two years ago of a vast grafted cacao seedling nursery in a two-hectare private property here, the project was born through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) involving the partylist, Kennermer Foods International (KFI), South Luzon Federation of Cooperatives (SLFC) and the Cacao Farmers Association of Sorsogon (CFAS).

KFI is a foreign-invested agri-business with corporate and contract-farming operations throughout the Philippines and whose specialization is the trade and export of cocoa while SLFC is the umbrella organization of all rural-based cooperatives in Bicol and the Southern Tagalog regions.

CFAS, on the other hand, is an organized group of local farmers enlisted as cooperators of the Cacao Contract Growing Program for the province, which Bravo has arranged with KFI.

The nursery, located in Barangay Macabog, is currently on its massive cacao seedling propagation from where a bulky distribution of planting materials started last year has jump-started a wide-scale production of the high-value bean in the province.

“We consider this nursery the biggest in Bicol. It has initially come up with at least one million grafted seedlings—out of the top-quality seeds supplied by KFI--for distribution to CFAS members all over the province,” Vladimir Frivaldo, the project coordinator, on Wednesday said here.

After saturating the province, he said, the next batches of seedlings will be made available to contract growing cooperators in all the other five provinces of the region up to the Southern Tagalog Region covered by the SLFC.

This way, according to Frivaldo, the merging of these two regions into the cacao contract-growing program would make the area the biggest source of the product that commands a good price and is extremely in demand worldwide.

The upcoming Catanduanes project, Bravo said in a statement reaching here, took shape during a recent farmers’ consultative forum organized by Coop-NATCOO and the provincial government under Gov. Araceli Wong in Virac, the province’s capital town.

Participated in by over 500 farmers, the occasion, themed “Cacao na Itatanim, Habambuhay Kayamanan Natin (Cacao that will be planted, a lifetime wealth)” was able to generate interest in the intercropping of cacao with coconut to take advantage of the forecast lack of the bean’s supply in the world market by 2025, he said.

It was also able to draw the support of Wong whose administration has adopted cacao as among the agricultural products included in its Php200-million agri-development project being considered for fund grant by the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Philippine Rural Development Programme (PRDP).

The world’s cacao or cocoa production, according to Frivaldo, is heavily concentrated in Ivory Coast and Ghana, from where most of the world’s biggest chocolate competitors like NestlĂ©, Mars, Hershey, Cargill, Heinz and Ferrero get the bulk of their supplies.

In 2010, world grindings of cocoa beans were projected at 3.6 million tons (MTs), reflecting an average annual increase of 2.1 percent.

Consumption will continue to be concentrated in developed countries, which are expected to account for 64 percent of world cocoa consumption.

In the national scene, cacao production in the Philippines was estimated at 5,000 MTs of beans in 2007 and could possibly reach 100,000 MTs in 2020, provided that good and quality beans are produced.

Frivaldo said the continuing demand for good quality fermented cacao beans is an opportunity for Bicolano farmers to snatch some of the global demand.

“We in this venture seek to revitalize the cacao industry of the country with Sorsogon, Catanduanes and all provinces of Bicol playing a vital role, given the region’s climatic appropriateness for the same crop and its huge area whose soil characteristics support cacoa growing,” he said.

The tropical weather and volcanic soil in the region is suitable for cacao farming but, unfortunately, this important high-value commercial crop has not been given due importance by Bicolano farmers in the past, thus, the COOP-NATCCO initiative, according to Frivaldo.

With the help of the DA and Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Frivaldo said, interest in cacao production among local farmers is increasing steadily owing to some latest technology training and information on the local and international demand for cocoa products whose world prices have been constantly favorable.

The DA Bicol regional office for Bicol is equipping farmer-cooperators with new technologies on cacao growing and processing through training while the PCA provides technologies in cacao intercropping with coconut.

Through the contract-growing scheme that intends to enlist some 30,000 farmers as cooperators in Bicol alone, Frivaldo said, cacao would come as another sunshine industry of the region next to abaca, coconut and pili.

Under this scheme, farmers are guaranteed additional income estimated at Php60,000 per hectare per year by producing quality-grade fermented dry cacao beans from about 500 trees.

Hence, the promise of this high-value crop now occupies the interest of Bicolano farmers and farm owners owing to an intensive campaign of COOP-NATCCO and the DA to promote its benefits both in terms of economic and health gains.

Widely called as the “foods 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.

So far, agencies involved in this undertaking have 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, Frivaldo added. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/EDS