Science in the agriculture value chain
Unless science is utilized in the agriculture value chain, we will not be able to compete globally. This is especially important with our current trade environment amid increasing high-quality, low-cost imports. By utilizing science, we will not only minimize job losses by decreasing imports, we will also add jobs through increased exports.
This is evident in the cacao industry. We have been extensively promoting cacao, but without adequately stating that this has dangers.
With Ivory Coast reentering the global market, the breakeven production yield now has to be at least two kilos per plant. Today, our average yield is just 0.7 kilos.
Our farmers have to look at soil suitability through a climate change map. We must also look at the entire value chain, from production to marketing, to be profitable.
Since there are several methodologies of cacao production being promoted, often by dubious sources, the private sector Philippine Cacao Industry Association (PCIA) teamed up with the legislated public-private sector Philippine Cacao Industry Council (PCIC) to assemble 14 of the country’s best experts to write a book on production. They also hold a forum called “Usapan Kakao at Tsokolate” monthly, which is accessible for free by the public through the internet.
However, they primarily concentrate on production. Examining the value chain revealed that critical bottlenecks in profitability are fermentation, drying and bean grading.
During the PCIA and PCIC activities, farmers were inspired by the producers who won the gold medal in the Cocoa of Excellence (CO-EX) Awards. This is the most prestigious global competition that “celebrates the quality and flavor diversity of cocoas produced around the world.”
Two months ago, 36 cacao producers were nominated by cacao-producing regions to join the CO-EX competition. Sadly, only three met the required quality standards. It was discovered that a critical part of the value chain has long been neglected: fermentation, drying and bean grading.
We currently import 70 percent of our cacao. But since we can produce the best cacao in the world, proven by winning the gold medal in global competitions, we must address the bottlenecks immediately.
Putting science into action is the challenge. Since my management doctorate concentrated on technology transfer, I can say that PCIA and PCIC have embarked on an excellent plan.
They are using a valuable and powerful resource that has remained largely academic but not sufficiently used for needed action: state universities and colleges (SUCs).
A 10-day training program in fermentation, drying and bean grading will start on Feb. 1. Participants will be 33 food scientists from 24 SUCs located in cacao-producing regions. These scientists will then train the cacao trainers in their respective areas, who will then transfer the technology to farmers.
The program is done in partnership with the departments of agriculture (DA), trade and industry (DTI), science and technology and agrarian reform. Critical agencies such as the Philippine Coconut Authority and the Cooperative Development Authority are also involved.
The program is hosted by University of Southern Mindanao, Agricultural Training Institute, DA Region 12 High Value Crops, and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology Nicer Program.
One of the best cacao experts in the world, Steven DeVries, owner of the famous DeVries chocolate brand, will also be there.
The main organizers are PCIA president Armi Garcia and PCIC cochairs DTI Undersecretary Blesila Lantayona and DA-Bureau of Plant Industry Director Glenn Panganiban.
It is imperative that science must be used in our agriculture value chains. But to do this effectively, the key components shown in this cacao example should be incorporated: harness the underutilized SUCs, use global experts to guide local production and catalyze public-private participation on both the national and local levels. With this recipe, we can reduce imports, expand exports and help eliminate poverty. INQ
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected]
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