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Davao's cacao: source of the world's best chocolates


Who would have thought that one of the world's known chocolate bars like Mars heavily rely their cacao supply from the Philippines, specifically in Davao region?

Another significant chocolate maker based in Springfield, Missouri, USA which specializes in single origin chocolate in small batches, the Askinosie Chocolate, also sources out raw cacao supply from Davao City.

The owner, Shawn Askinosie, personally visited Malagos, a small community found in the outskirts of the city. Convinced that the area is perfect for quality cacao production, Askinosie formalized partnership with the local farmers to supply the company with raw cacao.

Through the company, the Davao White Chocolate Nibble Bar was named by the Times of London as one of the Ten Best Chocolate Bars in the World as released in September last year.

Giving back to the community that positively helped Askinosie Chocolate find its niche in the global market, the owner constantly pours in social development projects like establishment of Internet connection and enough number of computer units which can be of great use to the students of Malagos Elementary School.

The Mars Chocolate, having been long established in the region, has also contributed much to the growth of the cacao industry.

The Mars Cocoa Development Center (MCDC) that started in 2008 was built to bring positive environment and socioeconomic benefits of sustainably grown cocoa to farmers.

It is through the center that farmers get to learn best practices in cocoa cultivation. it is here that they learn new methods in pest control to better improve the quality of their cocoa.

More than 3,000 farmers have been part of the center, most of them graduated from the Farmer Field School.

MCDC has expanded its coverage from Malagos to other Davao provinces like Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental. Satellite demonstration farms were set up in those areas to further cater to more farmers and start engage in cacao production.

Another significant actor in the development of the cacao industry in Davao Region is the USDA-funded project Success Alliance II as implemented by ACDI/VOCA in partnership with CocoaPhil. In this project, farmers attended Farmer Field School activities wherein they didn't just improve production but they have also strengthened the industry by engaging in collective venture.

Before the project, these farmers used to do farming as individuals. They were not yet educated about the realities of the value chain and importance of consolidation.

Through time, these farmers grouped themselves and started doing things as Subasta Cocoa Farmers. They bought wet cocoa beans from their members and few from other farmers in the community. They sold and delivered these cocoa beans to Puentespina Farms, the leading market of these wet cocoa beans. The farmers also learned that they could also earn not just from wet cocoa. They started to sell dried and fermented cocoa beans by the assistance of ACDI/VOCA. A solar dryer, fermentary boxes and bean-grading toolkit were provided to the Subasta farmers.

Increased income led to the building of additional post-harvest facilities. These have further improved the cocoa production of the said farmers. They have mastered the skill, applied technology, played the market, and joined the competition. At the end of the day, the lesson learned is the importance of collective work. Working individually in this industry, as they observed, may have been very promising at first, however, the consolidated effort of each farmer was found vital in the long run for the sustainability of the industry.

What urged farmers to focus and improve cocoa production is the turn out of the cocoa export in the recent years. Before when Davao was not yet known to be a conducive area for cocoa production, farmers almost lost interest in farming cacao. Things changed as international demand started coming in.

It was in 2008 to 2009 that the Bureau of Customs XI reported a six fold increase in exports from a mere 151 metric tons to 1,112 metric tons in 2009. Before the increase, it was barely China and the United States that import the cocoa products from the region. However, with the full-blast trainings and other form of capacity development efforts the BOC XI noted some expansion of the international market. It has expanded to Europe with the Netherlands as the shipping point. Not just that, neighboring Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand also followed to import from the country.

More than half of the supply here was exported to Malaysia, a portion of the total supply went to Thailand, USA, and Netherlands.

By Mai Gevera Macapagat-Macapagat

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