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Cacao farmers in Southern Leyte get government aid, support for tablea production

National government agencies have shared ideas, provided inputs, and delivered material assistance to a group of cacao farmers in  barangay Juangon, Malitbog town in Southern Leyte, in order to kickstart their tablea (cacao butter) production business.

Nagtamod gyod mi sa sulti sa taga Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) nga himoong business ang among pagpananom og cacao, kinahanglan dinaghan (We followed the advice of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that our cacao planting must be a business; it should be in bulk)," said Erwin Inting, a farmer in the barangay who was into growing cacao trees. 

A member of the cacao growers cooperative showed a handful of dried beans, the raw materials used in the production of tablea. (Photo courtesy of Jesse Cabarrubias and Ian Tanque, Information Officers of Malitbog LGU)

Inting has been regularly attending seminars initiated by DTI on cacao production, from planting to post-harvest processing. He shared the inputs he learned with his fellow growers in small groups long before they were formed into an organization.


“Sa una, sige man tog meeting ang DTI, kadtong Southern Leyte Cacao Development Council. Akoy representative sa Malitbog as president sa coop kay nananom pod ko og cacao, naa man koy duha ka hektarya yuta nga gitamnan og cacao" (The DTI, through the Southern Leyte Cacao Development Council, has been holding meetings before. I was the representative for Malitbog as president of our cooperative. I was also into planting cacao; I have two hectares of land planted to cacao), Inting told the Philippine Information Agency in an interview.

“Nagsabot mi mag-create mig asosasyon pinaagi pod sa DAR, sila poy nag-ugba namo nga himoon ming cooperative" (We agreed to create an association through DAR, which prodded us to organize into a cooperative), he added.

So it was through the assistance of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) that their cooperative was born. DAR was impressed upon seeing that the individual cacao farmers in the barangay were doing well in the propagation of their cacao trees and the subsequent piecemeal tablea production out of their harvest of cacao fruits. In 2021, the Malitbog Agrarian Reform Cooperative (MARC) was formed and registered with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA). Inting was elected coop president. 

But DAR did more than give a juridical personality to their group; in the same year, the agency extended P300,000 worth of construction materials to the cooperative so that they could put up a separate processing center for their tablea production business. 

As it turned out, the DAR-assisted building, which was built on a 200-square-meter lot donated by one of the coop members, was a prerequisite requirement for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to come in with their machines worth more than a million pesos. Paperwork was carried out in 2022 for the project, and then last year, in 2023, the funds were downloaded to LGU-Malitbog. A memorandum of agreement (MOA) was consequently signed between the LGU, DOST, and the cooperative for the setting up of the equipment.

Erwin Inting (left), president of Malitbog Agrarian Reform Cooperative, and Mark Anthony Degamo of DOST, inspected one of the roaster machines. (Photo courtesy of DOST Provincial Office)

On January 17, 2024, Science Research Specialists Mark Anthony Degamo and Karen Gladys Delizo, both key staff from the DOST provincial office, inspected the newly delivered and installed machinery. “The science and technology-based interventions aim to empower the cacao farmers in processing their cacao produce into tablea, chocolate candies, and artisan chocolate products. The Community Empowerment through Science and Technology (CEST) program aims to provide livelihoods and alleviate poverty in remote communities,” the provincial DOST said on its social media page.

The packaged tablea product, with a minimum weight of 1⁄4 kilo, can be bought for P150. (Photo courtesy of Jesse Cabarrubias and Ian Tanque, Information Officers of Malitbog LGU)

Last week, the first output of 20 kilos of tablea was produced using the roaster, grinder, and winnowing machines given by DOST. It was a big jump in production volume compared with the 3 kilos produced when done by manual operation. Inting said they focused first on tablea-making for now.

Despite the passing of Typhoon Odette, the Malitbog Agrarian Reform Cooperative (MARC) can still count over 30 hectares planted to cacao as their source of raw materials. The plants Odette damaged have started to recover; some have even already borne fruit.  Inting said the cooperative buys dry seeds from its more than 60 members and growers at a high price of P200 per kilo to encourage them to focus on cacao as a prime livelihood. A farmer who harvests at least 10 trees can be assured of 3 kilos, or P600, enough to make ends meet.

The dry cacao beans are stocked in jute sacks, ready for processing. (Photo courtesy of Jesse Cabarrubias and Ian Tanque, Information Officers of Malitbog LGU)

When told that a certain international company has been engaging with cacao growers to buy their outputs, Inting said he preferred to do the manufacturing process on their own to add more value to their products. Besides, the company buys only dry seeds— and at a much lower price than what the coop offered.

Officers and members of the Malitbog Agrarian Reform Cooperative (MARC) pose with the dry cacao beans, which were used as samples in a tablea-making demonstration. (Photo courtesy of Delia Abiera/DAR)

Much of the harvested fruit came from grafted cacao tree seedlings given by the Department of Agriculture regional office and from the provincial local government. These were planted from 2015 to 2016. At least 15,000 seedlings came from the DA regional office and 10,000 from the provincial government. These were proportionately distributed to the farmers. Inting said they had requested some more seedlings—at least an additional 10,000 units—during a recently held cacao regional summit, as his fellow growers keep asking for more planting materials. 

Wholesale buyers

Inting is thankful to all the government agencies for extending their help and lending support.  Still, more developments are found wanting, such as the need for a nice production venue to merit the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He recalled that shortly before work on the building began, most of the 261 bags of cement given by DAR were washed out to sea during ‘Odette,’ since barangay Juangon is a coastal barangay, and the materials were stocked at the barangay hall. 

The processing center that still needed some work is yet to be given the license to operate as a food production facility by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (Photo courtesy of Jesse Cabarrubias and Ian Tanque, Information Officers of Malitbog LGU)

The cooperative had since finished applying finishing cement to the inside wall but not yet to the outside wall of the building.

On the side of marketing, for now, at least, their steady production can be sold and delivered to retailers in the town and nearby areas, but with the anticipated rise in output volume because of the DOST machines, they welcome bulk, wholesale buyers.

“Pagka karon nangita gyod mi og mga dinagko ang pinalitan”  (Now we are really looking for big-time buyers), Inting said. Inting can be reached at this cell number, 09092452249, for those interested.

The sticky cacao beans shown here are melting and in the process of “cooking” with the use of the DOST machine. (Photo courtesy of Lucy Galleto, as shared by Delia Abiera, DAR personnel)

The cooperative is hopeful that with the proven and tested assistance of the various national government agencies and local government units, their aspiration for an improved production facility, much better quality cacao-based products, and a ready market -- will be realized -- sooner or later. (LDL/MMP/PIA Southern Leyte)

About the Author

Marcelo Pedalino

Regional Editor

Region 8

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