SORSOGON CITY –- A plan hatched nine months ago is now beginning to realize the aspiration to lift the economic life of local farmers through the massive production of cacao, a high value crop for the ready market making use of the vast unproductive land cutting into the entire rural territory of Sorsogon province.
Day-one of the project came Wednesday with the start of the establishment in Barangay Macabog here of a two-hectare nursery where 600,000 cacao seedlings will be propagated and distributed to farmers under the joint initiative of the COOP NATCCO Partylist and the South Luzon Federation of Cooperatives (SLFC).
The SLFC is an 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 introduced by Congressman Anthony Bravo, the partylist’s representative who hails from Bicol, and is now being implemented in partnership with the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Department of Agriculture (DA) and Kennemer Foods International, Inc. (KFI).
Under the partnership, the DA and the PCA will provide technologies in cacao intercropping with coconut while the SLFC, through the Sorsogon Integrated Development Cooperative (SIDECO), a provincial federation of agricultural and non-agricultural cooperatives in Sorsogon province, is in-charge of the nursery.
During the Wednesday launch of the nursery which, Bravo said, would be the first and biggest in the Bicol region, KFI president Simon Bakker and Romeo Bojorque representing SLFC signed at the SIDECO office here the memorandum of agreement (MOA) covering the partnership involving the cacao contract growing.
KFI, whose specialization is the trade and export of cocoa, is a foreign-invested agri-business with corporate and contract-farming operations throughout the Philippines.
For its 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 company operates farms, nurseries and buying-centers in various locations within the Visayas and Mindanao, with head office in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
“We are committed to rural development by promoting market transparency, providing fair value pricing for produce and the implementation of sustainable farming practices, Bakker said during the MOA signing rite.
KFI’s products and programs encompass complete agricultural value-chain from planting materials, training, agri-technology to market, Bakker said.
The company, he added, has specialized on cacao because it is a cash crop that can provide a good income, a perennial crop with a relatively short gestation period, demand for cacao is growing and a market is readily available and can be intercropped with other cash crops, especially coconut trees.
Under the MOA, KFI will provide planting materials like high-yielding, six-month-old, clonal cacao seedlings to assure that the farmers will be getting quality cacao seedlings.
Participating farmers can also get free technical assistance from KFI technicians who will train them on the process of field preparation, planting, management of the gestation period, harvesting, pest management and maintenance and rehabilitation of older cacao trees.
Regular coaching and monitoring by KFI field-technicians is provided to ensure the implementation of good agricultural practices and the proper application of inputs, Bakker said.
On buying farmers’ produce, he said KFI’s regular practice is to buy wet beans from growers and the company takes care of the fermentation, drying and packing although it also buys fully fermented and dried beans.
Buying prices are always linked to the world price of cacao, he added.
Bakker said the program will help in revitalizing the cacao industry of the country, with Sorsogon and Bicol playing a vital role given the region’s climatic appropriateness for the same crop.
According to the DA, Bicol’s climatic conditions and soil characteristics support cocoa growing and the agency is 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.
Widely called as the “foods for the gods,” cocoa bean is a major agricultural commodity traded worldwide.
In Japan alone, imports have increased from an annual average at 48,000 metric tons in 1998-2000 to 56,000 MT in 2010.
Market estimates have it that premium chocolate sales will continue to expand, commanding 25 percent of the market and generating US$ 4.5 billion in sales yearly.
Like many other farmers in Bicol—and around the Philippines—Sorsogon farmers are exploited by unscrupulous traders, neglected by local governments in terms of production support, uninspired to plant due to limited market for their produce and educationally handicapped to access new farming technologies, according to Bravo.
“So, when we thought of a program to improve agriculture in Bicol, we made it sure that Sorsogon is included,” he said.
He stressed that the program, which is primarily directed towards the improvement of the economy of local farmers, is a public-private partnership involving COOP NATCCO Partylist, DA, PCA, SLFC, SIDECO and KFI.