Cordillera Chocolate festival: the sweetest festival

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By Danilo P. Padua, PhD

“ During the festival, production gaps were identified such as: data on actual production and area planted, marketing data, proper care and maintenance, harvest/tree/year, variety best suited to the Cordillera, budgetary support from the government, and others. ”

Add Cordillera Chocolate Festival to the existing numerous festivals in the Cordillera. It is touted to be the sweetest festival of them all. I don’t think there are many people who disagree with this.
It all began with the first cacao congress in Benguet, some 2 years ago as an offshoot of the initiative of former provincial governor, Cresencio Pacalso.
The sweetness, the aroma, and the industrial potential of cacao have rolled to all 6 provinces of the Cordillera region making possible the holding of the First Cordillera Chocolate Festival last Feb 14-15, 2024 at the BSU gym.
The festival was enthusiastically participated in by attendees from the various provinces. A delegation of cacao producers from Nueva Vizcaya was also in attendance, obviously indicating that what CAR is doing relative to the cacao industry is already being watched by some regions. There is therefore very little room for failure.
The first edition was a glorious showcase of the various brands of chocolates developed by entrepreneurs from all the CAR provinces. It is really surprising to see all those chocolates and tableas on display. They are ready to take off commercially. With a little more help and encouragement from the various government agencies and officials, there should be no doubt that the region will become a significant contributor to the advancement of the cacao industry in the country.
Why was it called a festival? The answer to this may come in time as it evolves in the future.
By the way, the main cacao production areas in the country at the moment are Davao, Cebu, Batangas, Cotabato, Bohol, Negros, Panay, Basilan, Jolo, and Bukidnon. Cacao however, is grown in all regions of the Philippines.
A little backgrounder.
Before year 2009, Hershey’s chocolate company of the U.S. approached the Philippine government asking if it can supply to them about 20,000kg of cacao beans per month. At that time, the dearth in supply of the commodity in the world market was already felt. Ghana and Ivory Coast, the two world leader in cacao production were already hard-pressed to supply the demand of the world’s chocolate manufacturers, particularly in Europe.
That golden opportunity was not grabbed by our concerned national government officials. Why? Cacao was not a national or even a regional priority crop then-up to now. With the pittance budget of the DA, we can expect that any non-priority crop will not be favored in budget allocations. Thus, no serious program was crafted for its development as an industry. That’s why!
Well, the DA responded somewhat to the challenge posed by Hersheys. In CAR for example, the DA distributed thousands of cacao seedlings to farmers in the six provinces. The farmers planted although survival of the seedlings in the field was not so high. Sadly, many who successfully cultivated the planting materials into maturity found them useless. This is simply because they did not know how to make use or sell the cacao beans that they produced.
Result? They cut them down to give way to production of vegetables or other cash crops. This is a case of a truncated gift giving; a plan that was not intended to be implemented at all. A little valuable resource gone to waste.
Now is the time for redemption, as far as the development of the cacao industry is concerned.
The newly-federated Cacao Growers and Processors of Baguio and Benguet headed by its president, Dr. John Tinoyan, should be a boost for the development of the industry. He is ready to steer the federation into the arena of success. He is even spearheading the identification of old cacao trees as a source of planting materials as they are undoubtedly much adapted to local conditions already.
Former governor Pacalso, the adviser of the federation (also a cacao farmer himself) is enjoining the participation of every stakeholder, including supplier of fertilizers and other production inputs, seller of plastics for seedling production, etc in the planning process. This is, according to him, necessary to come up with relevant and doable plan for the benefit of all.
During the festival, production gaps were identified such as: data on actual production and area planted, marketing data, proper care and maintenance, harvest/tree/year, variety best suited to Cordillera, budgetary support from the government, and others.
“We should look forward to long-term solutions to such problems, thus the active collaboration of everyone is important”, emphasized Pacalso.
It is reassuring to note that Benguet Governor Melchor Diclas, Congressman Eric Yap and Benguet Board member, Atty Ruben Paoad, all expressed their full support to the development of the industry.
The lack of financial support to the industry maybe much lessened soon as the DA central is now contemplating of coming up with a significant budgetary allocation for the cacao industry. It is even talking of insurance for cacao farmers. Consul Armi Garcia, the president of the Philippine Cacao Industry Association, and one of the resource persons in the festivals also mentioned various possible sources of fund that cacao farmers and processors in CAR could tap. All these bode well for the industry in Cordillera.
Salute to all the exhibitors of chocolates and tableas during the festival.
Let us all remember and believe that CACAO IS GOLD.


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