Thursday, April 28, 2016

Da-Bicol continues training farmers on cacao production
By Danny O. Calleja

PILI, Camarines Sur, April 28 (PNA) –- The Department of Agriculture Bicol regional office here on Thursday said it recently trained 40 more farmers who would fire up the commercial production of cacao in six municipalities of Camarines Sur.

The activity, dubbed as Training on Sustainable Cacao Production, is part of the agency’s continuing effort aimed at educating farmers on the profitable production of the commodity which is being groomed as another sunshine industry of the region -- next to abaca, pili nut and coconut -- by way of promoting its significance both in terms of economic and health gains.

This promotion effort is supported with interventions falling under DA’s application of Republic Act 7900 or the High-Value Crops Development Act of 1995 that allots funds for providing production assistance, technology transfer, marketing and processing.

In DA's High-Value Commercial Crops Program (HVCDP) formulated and now ongoing implementation in line with this Act, assistance to producers concerning crop insurance, credit, post-harvest facilities, good seeds and planting materials and fiscal incentives are also provided.

The recent training provided by DA’s cacao specialists was held last April 19 in Minalabac, one of the six Camarines Sur towns eyed for the program.

The five others are Goa, Tigaon, Lupi, Sipocot and Libmanan, whose economies rely mainly on agriculture.

These 40 newly–trained farmers distributed among the six municipalities will spearhead the growing of cacao in their respective areas using planting materials and other inputs to be provided by the DA and applying the new technologies they learned, according to Elena de los Santos, the DA regional officer-in charge.

“We are conducting 17 more training sessions this year for different sets of farmers across the region as we hope to make Bicol a major contributor in making the Philippines a cacao industry winner and among the world’s leading producers and exporters of cacao beans and cocoa products,” De los Santos said.

These training courses address DA's goal to steer farmers towards generating high income by way of providing them the latest package of technologies for cacao production, post-harvest knowledge and proper equipment in crop cultivation.

The training is also a venue in spreading in Bicol farming communities the technologies and good words about cacao whose seeds are traditionally being processed to produce chocolate bars and drinks.

So far, De los Santos said, Bicol already has “a good number” of farmers intercropping cacao with other traditional crops such as pili and coconut, a good farming practice that is projected to give a farmer additional income estimated at Php60,000 per hectare by producing quality-grade fermented dry cacao beans at about 500 trees per hectare.

“We are continuously initiating activities to develop warm acceptance of the smallholder cacao production approach among farmers and renew their interest and willingness to collaborate for the promotion of sustainable cacao production,” she said.

Apart from these, 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.

The region has 242,644 hectares of coconut land and at least 10 percent of it or 24,264 hectares can be inter-cropped with cacao, Delos Santos noted.

Initially, she said, the DA-HVCDP aims to come up with 850 hectares of cacao plantations in the region and produce around 4,000 metric tons of high-quality cacao seed by year 2020.

Onward, the Bicol cacao industry envisions to grow at least 12 million cacao trees with the participation of about 2,400 Bicolano farmers.

De los Santos said the region’s climatic conditions and soil characteristics support cocoa growing and “we are taking advantage of these in increasing interest in production among local farmers by way of training them on latest technology and informing them on the local and international demand for cocoa products whose world prices have been constantly favorable.

The annual worldwide production of cacao is 4.2 million tons and the demand for cacao increases by three percent every year, De los Santos said.

In Sorsogon, she said, a two-hectare nursery where one million cacao seedlings are being propagated and distributed to local farmers is a good intervention under the joint initiative of the COOP NATCCO Partylist and the South Luzon Federation of Cooperatives (SLFC), the umbrella organization of all rural-based cooperatives in Bicol and the Southern Tagalog regions.

The initiative is under the Cacao Contract Growing Program for the province which Rep. Anthony Bravo, the partylist’s representative, has arranged with Kennemer Foods International Inc. (KFI), a foreign-invested agri-business with corporate and contract-farming operations throughout the Philippines whose specialization is the trade and export of cocoa.

For the contract-growing operation, farmers and cooperatives are provided with planting materials, technology, training and a guaranteed buy-back of harvest linked to world prices.

The program is also implemented in partnership with the DA and Philippine Coconut Authority which provide technologies in cacao intercropping with coconut and pili.

With these Bicol undertakings as contributors, De los Santos said, the country could be one of the biggest producers of the crop in Asia and this could be achieved if some 500 million more cacao trees are made growing in about 200,000 hectares of land in the next eight years so that by 2024, the country can produce 100,000 tons of cacao beans.

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.

Studies say chocolate and cocoa derive their health benefits from flavonoids which are plant pigments capable of acting as antioxidants to counteract some of the cellular damage that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow in humans. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD