June 22, 2024

■  Ofelia C. Empian 

Cacaos grown in high-elevation areas like the Cordillera has the potential for market due to its unique flavo, according to a cacao industry executive.

Philippine Cacao Industry Association Incorporated President Army Lopez Garcia, during the inaugural Cordillera Cacao Festival on Feb. 14 to 15 at the Benguet State University, said the region’s cacao has a good flavor profile, but this would greatly depend on the quality of the beans.

Garcia, who is also the chairperson of the multi-sectoral Philippine Cacao Industry Council (PCIC), said cacaos produced in high-elevation areas such as 800 to 1,000 meters above sea level have outstanding flavor potential.  

Higher altitude entails lower temperature and humidity, which pose a challenge for farmers in these areas. 

“We need to produce quality beans to command a better price. Aside from good seedlings, we have to harmonize production, fermentation and drying protocols to ensure that we meet the quality requirement of the market,” Garcia said.

With the help of government agencies, the cacao industry needs to develop its own value-addition to the product from the raw cacao.

Good fermented cacao beans command a higher price in the market while the beans need to undergo grading in order to command a higher price from P150 to P240 a kilo.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that cacao production in the region only reached 20.5 metric tons from January to March and 11.78 metric tons from April to June of 2023.

There are more than 400 cacao growers, who are mostly backyard growers, and 22 trained processors who have organized themselves in the region.

“We have proven that cacao is productive in the Cordillera even in high elevation areas,” Eva Ritchelle Padua of Dulche Chocolates, one of the region’s leading cacao processors said.

Padua, who also chairs the Cordillera Cacao Industry Development Council, said they are heeding the challenge in improving cacao production in the region.

She is currently spearheading the standardization of the fermentation process using highland cacao, which aims to create a distinctive Benguet fermentation signature that produces quality chocolates that could be competitive in domestic and international markets. 

The project is backed by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development.

Based on the Philippine Cacao Industry Council roadmap for 2021-2025, Garcia said the goal is to make each cacao tree produce at least two kilograms of fermented beans a year from the current 700 grams.

As of 2022, Apayao has the biggest cacao farm area with 24 hectares that produced 20 tons of dried cacao beans, followed by Kalinga with 15 hectares that harvested 10 tons, Benguet with 10 hectares, four tons, and Mountain Province with four hectares, two tons.

She said the region needs to form clusters of cacao farmers in order to produce more cacao and to avail of government assistance for equipment support like for drying and roasting.

Padua said they are also encouraging farmers to go into intercropping of cacao with banana or coffee to have diverse incomes.