Davao rushes cacao planting to meet demand of US chocolate maker

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 July)  – Local planters of cacao are rushing to meet the 100,000 metric tons of fermented cacao demanded by Mars Inc., the US-based maker of the popular M&M candies and chocolates.


Cacao growers said Mars Inc.’s huge demand has made the crop “the next big thing” in the agriculture export industry here, as it may equal Cavendish banana’s importance as an export crop.


The company itself has asked cacao growers in Davai to meet the 100,000-MT requirement, according to Val Tutor, executive director of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao.


Current production was between 7,000 MT and 8,000 MT since 2009, when Mars Inc. and local growers agreed to a supply contract facilitated by the US Department of Agriculture when it launched its Success Alliance livelihood training program in Mindanao in 2007.


With the better-tasting and high-yielding variety planted in Davao City, the firm has offered the privilege to Davao growers to satisfy its increasing volume requirement, Tutor said.


To meet the demand, he estimated that some seven million trees have to be planted annually. He added Davao City’s northern agricultural district has 5,000 hectares and the rest of the Davao Region has 20,000 hectares more for the required 10,000 hectares of land.


Spaced at two meters by two meters, a hectare could be planted to 600 cacao trees intercropped with other crops like banana, and could have as many as 1,160 trees if solely planted to it.


Tutor said that the target was attainable, “with a lot of areas open for planting”.


San Isidro town farmers in Davao Oriental, for instance, have 5,000 hectares existing for cacao production, which was being exported to the Netherlands. This European country is known to consolidate all the production in many parts of the world to supply the needs of European chocolate makers.


With the sudden huge demand, other areas have signified intention to venture into planting cacao to help the Davao growers. Tutor said that some areas in Region 12, or Southwestern Mindanao, and Surigao provinces in the Caraga region, have expressed interest.


The demand could be further easily meet if good farm practices would be observed too. He said that Indonesia, a leading cacao producer, was attaining a production level of two to three tons per hectare, compared to the one ton production in the Davao Region.


Cacao was also the option of some banana growers, whose small farms have been ravaged by the dreaded Fusarium Wilt, or popularly known as Panama Disease. Many others though, chose oil palm as alternative crop. A farm ravaged by Panama Disease could no longer be planted to banana or other crops and vegetables with soft-stemmed characteristics like tomato.


Training though, has been provided earlier by the Mars Cacao Development Center inside the Puentespina-owned Malagos Garden Resort, and now with the newly-located Cacao Development Center, established by the city government.


The centers have already trained 6,000 farmers from Davao City and Davao del Norte areas, and another batch of 3,300 farmers would be trained during the second semester of this year.


Unknown to many, cacao growers enjoy high domestic prices pegged at international rates. A kilo of cacao would fetch P95 locally, and Tutor said that this was the same price in the global market.


Mindanao grows 80 percent of cacao trees in the country and the Davao Region accounts for 70 percent of the Mindanao total.  Growers have been using the BR 25 and UF 18, all high-yielding varieties that could start producing in 18 months, half the usual cropping season of a native variety.


About one million seedlings were already raised in 70 nurseries in Davao City and Davao del Norte, in preparation for the massive planting of cacao. (MindaNews)