Commercial coffee, Cacao production advocated

PILI, Camarines Sur (PNA) - The Regional Field Unit for Bicol of the Department of Agriculture (DA-RFU) is urging Bicolano farmers to engage in the commercial production of coffee and cacao for them to be able to reap the benefits of the growing demand for these high-value crops in the country and abroad.

In coffee, DA Region-5 Director Abelardo Bragas said 60 percent the country's supply is imported from other countries, and only 40 percent is locally produced.

"We need to enable local farmers to turn to this high-value crop, and eventually void of the need to import coffee beans, such as from Indonesia and Vietnam, to meet the local demand," Bragas said.

The Philippines used to be fourth largest coffee-producing nation, and noted as among the few countries in the world where leading coffee varieties like robusta, excels, and liberica exist.
However, coffee plantations in the country have already decreased from 149,657 hectares to 138,830.
The Philippines now accounts for only 0.12 percent of the world's coffee supply.

Rosita Imperial, the regional High-Value Crop Development Program (HVCDP) coordinator, said coffee is the world's most consumed beverage, and most traded next to oil.

Three decades ago, the Philippines is one of the top coffee exporters, but now a net importer as the country's total demand for coffee reaches 70,350 metric tons (MT), while local production is only 47,838 MT.

The country's coffee yearly importation is 22,500 MT valued at P6.72 billion, and out of the 88,526 MT coffee production of the Philippines in 2011, Bicol was able to contribute only 327 MT.

Sorsogon is Bicol's top producer of coffee with its 171 MT, followed by Albay, 103.66 MT, Camarines Sur with 26.54 MT, Camarines Norte with 22.93 MT, and Catanduanes at 1.99 MT.

Majority of the coffee plantation in the region is planted to the robusta variety, according to Imperial.

In cacao, Bragas said, consumers' interest in the reported health benefits of dark chocolate is the main driver in current market growth.

"The tropical weather and volcanic soil in Bicol is suitable for cacao farming but, unfortunately, this important high-value commercial crop - which in our neighboring countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand is considered an industrial crop that provides significant income to their farmers - have not been given due importance by our farmers," he said.

Cacao, inter-cropped with other crops such as pili and coconut, is projected to give a farmer additional income estimated at P60,000 per hectare by producing quality-grade Fermented Dry Cacao Beans at about 500 trees per hectare, Bragas said.

To realize this, Bragas said his office is initiating activities to develop warm acceptance of the smallholder cacao production approach among farmers, and renew their interest and willingness to collaborate for the promotion of sustainable cacao production.

Apart from these, he said, the DA is identifying more suitable areas in Bicol for cacao production, and maximizing the presence of markets that could be organized into workable production-market system.

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