Unless our agriculture is science-based, we will never succeed. This is important now, since we are increasingly involved in international trade agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Increased trade generally means more imports and exports. But if our products do not meet the emerging new global standards, we will not be able to produce the jobs we need from increased exports. Worse, if imports will be superior and therefore replace our products, we will even lose our current jobs and slip into more poverty.
We must not let this happen. We need a model to follow for our high-valued agriculture crops. These products, unfortunately, get only 3 percent of our agriculture budget, even though they contribute 25 percent of our agriculture gross value added. Since these products are our best path to a better agriculture future, we hope the Senate approves a much higher amount for next year’s agriculture budget. This is specially important because of our planned science-based approach.
Considering this resource constraint today, we found such a cost-effective science-based model in cacao. Consul Armi Lopez Garcia is the president of private sector-led Philippine Cacao Industry Association (PCIA) and the chair of the public-private Philippine Cacao Industry Council (PCIC). This organizational arrangement is instructive.
PCIC unites players from all over the country to work together to become globally competitive. But the private sector needs government support for activities they cannot fully finance. These include research, gnome banking, breeding and training. The chair is from the private sector, with the two cochairs from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is a member, but this is not enough.
Last Oct. 16, Garcia wrote DOST Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. “to help guide the development of the cacao industry.” This happened after a series of events. Different government agencies were advocating cacao production, but few details were given. The average cacao yield per tree was only 700 grams, but the breakeven volume is 2 kilograms.
In addition, little attention was given to identifying the kind of areas where cacao could be grown profitably. For the first time, PCIA/PCIC provided a manual identifying the optimal production methodology, as well as a mapping of areas where the soil and climate conditions could achieve cacao profitability.
A few Filipino cacao growers had admirably won gold medals in worldwide competitions. To promote more winners, PCIA/PCIC gathered 36 of the best cacao producers from all our regions. But since only three had met global standards, PCIA/PCIC contacted the foreign mentor of a Filipino gold medal winner.
The globally recognized Steven DeVries found our cacao fermentation, drying and bean-grading technology wanting. PCIA/PCIC then convinced him to share his knowledge at almost no cost with 26 food scientists from state universities and colleges from all our regions.
PCIA/PCIC then contacted the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) Center for Cacao Excellence to scientifically validate the process. This technology is now being taught by USM to farmers at 60 PCIA/PCIC model cacao and 24 cooperatives identified by DA throughout the country.
With this background, PCIA/PCIC proposed to DOST a specific 10-point cacao science agenda. Action items vary from identifying, breeding and developing cacao varieties; to surviving under difficult soil, insect infestation and climate change conditions; to optimal fermenting, drying and bean-grading practices; to identifying our local cacao health benefits through schools, restaurants and even tourist destinations with a possible “Tatak Pinoy” brand. This will be discussed at the National Cacao Congress on Nov. 16 to Nov. 17 in Davao City (0907-0258024) primarily organized by PCIA/PCIC and DA.
We must now implement science-based agriculture, specially for our high-valued products, using cacao as a possible model. Critical to this is the leadership of an energized private sector with a global perspective, together with the full support of the government, especially DOST. We can then achieve what our country needs.
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 [email protected].