AgriNow: Chocolates Mitigate Climate Change in PH

( Photo credit from AgrinationPH)

Chocolates are not only good for your heart, but they are also good for the environment.

“Good news for chocolate lovers: your sweet tooth could help save one of the world’s most endangered rainforests, the Brazilian Atlantic Forest,” said a study released by the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute.

Researchers Chris Bright and Radhika Sarin outline how cacao – from which cocoa beans come from – could be grown in a way that would help restore the northern part of the Atlantic Forest biome, while encouraging other forms of development that preserve forest instead of destroying it.

Value of Chocolates

“Cacao has serious potential for conservation because it is a high-value crop that can be grown under rainforest canopy,” wrote Bright, the lead author of Venture Capitalism for a Tropical Forest. “Cacao is shade-tolerant, so farmers don’t have to clear all their forest in order to make a living with it.”

This is good news for the Philippines, a tropical country where cacao grows well.  In fact, it is one of the recommended crops by the National Greening Program, a tree planting effort of the national government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

A small tree which grows from 13 to 26 feet tall, cacao produces a lot of leaves which helps sequester carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in the warming of the planet.  An analysis of thousands of air samples that Dr. Pieter P. Tans and his team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that planting trees and other plants could “have a powerful effect in combating the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Aside from sequestering carbon dioxide, cacao – known in the science world as Theobroma cacao – also helps in producing the much-needed oxygen.  A full-grown tree, studies show, can supply at least 10 people with breathing air.

“A broad-leafed tree produces 2 kilograms of oxygen in 1 hour,” claims Dr. Jorn Wittern, a noted German professor and author. “A person consumes 2 kilograms of oxygen per day. Every liter of gasoline which powers a motor or a turbine consumes 2 kilograms of oxygen.”

Demand for PH Chocolates

Unfortunately, the Philippines is running out of trees.“A few hundred years ago, at least 95 percent of the Philippines was covered by rain forest; only a few patches of open woodland and seasonal forest, mostly on Luzon, broke the expanse of moist, verdant land,” noted Dr. Lawrence R. Heaney, an American curator who holds honorary appointments at the Philippine National Museum.

By the time the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, scattered coastal areas had been cleared for agriculture and dwellings.  Three hundred years later, rainforest still covered about 70% of the country.

Today, the Philippines is almost devoid of its forest cover.  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 25.7% or about 7,665,000 hectares of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares is forested.  Of this, 11.2% (861,000) hectares) is classified as primary forest.

In order for Filipinos to plant trees, they need something that can make money.  Cacao may just do the trick.  After all, there is a huge demand for cacao beans all over the world.

“The global demand for cacao has tripled since 1970,” reports the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao (CIDAMI).  “Although it took a slight dip during the financial crisis in 2008-2009, cacao’s worldwide demand has rebounded since and has been steadily increasing,”

Markets for PH Chocolates

Two of the largest markets, Europe and the United States, have had an average of 3% annual growth over the years. According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), the net imports for Europe did not go below 1,600,000 metric tons and the US not below 780,000 metric tons from 2004 to 2009.

Bloomberg reports the 2011 global sales for chocolates exceeded US$100 billion. It was expected to reach US$147 billion by 2017.

In the Philippines, the average annual cocoa consumption is 50,000 metric tons, the Department of Agriculture (DA) estimates.  By 2020, it is forecasted to reach 100,000 metric tons.

While cacao can be grown anywhere in the country, Mindanao is the best place to plant this crop.  For one, it is not visited oftentimes by typhoons.  For another, it has good rainfall and good soil.

Cacao Industry in Davao Region

Davao Region – composed of Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental, and Compostela Valley – has positioned itself as the cacao capital of the country. It contributes about 80% of the total cacao production from Mindanao, according to the DA’s High Value Commercial Crops Development Program.

Based on aggregate data from Philippine Provincial Agriculturist Offices, Davao Region has more than 20,000 hectares of cacao farms, with Davao City having the largest area of 6,060 hectares.

Unlike abaca and pili nut, which are endemic in the Philippines, cacao is not a native crop of the country. It was first cultivated by the Mayas around the 7th century A.D. They carried the seed north from the tropical Amazon forests to what is now Mexico. In the 16th century, the Spanish planted cacao across South America, into Central America, and onto the Caribbean Islands. In the 17th century, the Dutch transported the cacao to other places around the globe like Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, New Guinea, and the Philippines.

“In 1670, Spanish mariner Pedro Bravo de Lagunas planted the first cacao in San Jose, Batangas,” reports The Philippines Recommends for Cacao.  After that, cacao growing flourished in various parts of the country – until pod rot wiped out plantations of it.

In the 1950’s, the imposition of Import Control Law resulted in efforts to revive the industry by inter-governmental agencies and by private sector for self-sufficiency and export.  By the time the industry was blooming, pod borer infestation surfaced.  Control of the disease was quite expensive.  As a result, established plantations were again wiped out; others were abandoned.

As cacao production in the country went down, demand for cacao continued to increase in the world market.  The agriculture department says the global demand is expected to reach between 4.7 million to 5 million metric tons by the year 2020, and global supply will be at a deficit of 1 million metric tons.

Tips on Growing Cacao

It is high time to plant cacao again – either as an intercrop (of coconut and/or banana) or as the main crop.  The Philippines Recommends for Cacao, published by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, shares some tips on how to grow the crop:

  • The use of seeds is the most method of planting cacao.  Seeds must be selected carefully and must come from big pods obtained from trees which are highly productive, regular bearers and free from pests.  Seeds must be planted immediately since their viability is limited.
  • Seedlings to be retained in the nursery for 3-4 months must be raised in polyethylene bags.  The seedlings are shaded both above and at the sides for protection against strong winds.  Coconut palm fronds can be used for the purpose.
  • Transplanting can be done when the shoots become mature and the leaves become hard and dark green.  Utmost care is necessary in transporting as the seedlings are very pone to transplanting shock.
  • Care should be taken to remove the polyethylene container with minimal disturbance. Seedlings are to be planted at the same depth as they were in the polyethylene bags.  Topsoil is poured into the prepared hole a few centimeters at a time and then carefully pressed down.
  • Proper maintenance such as weeding, mulching, fertilizing, pest control, shade adjustment and pruning are necessary to keep the trees healthy and obtain high production.  Harvesting may be done in about three to five years after planting.

-Written by Henrylito D. Tacio


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