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April 06, 2008

Mars chocolate company sets up 'best practices' farm centre for cocoa in Phillipines

A 10 to 15-hectare "best practices" farm center has been set up in Malagos, Davao City by the world’s largest chocolate maker Mars Inc. in an aim to raise Philippines’ cocoa value to $ 300 million.

Called center of excellence found at the Fuentespina family’s Malagos Garden, the Mars Cocoa development center (MCDC) aims to set up a foundation for teaching farmers the know-how in maximizing yield.

"While the Philippines currently produces 5,000 tons of cocoa, it has the potential to produce 100,000 tons by 2020, making it the second biggest farm export-earner, next to coconut. Mars’ unique expertise in ‘adaptive research’…makes it qualified to demonstrate cocoa sustainability," said Howard Shapiro, Mars global director of plant science and external research.

Best practices components that will be imparted to farmers through the MCDC are germplasm evaluation and breeding, farm rehabilitation methods (such as through side and chupon grafting), good agricultural practices, integrated pest management, cocoa quality management, and post-harvest practices (including drying and fertilization).

Peter van Grinsven, Mars sustainability cocoa supply manager, said cocoa price in the world market has been constantly increasing by three percent yearly as emerging economies like China and India have increased consumption for cocoa luxury goods.

On the other hand, supply has been constricting as production from good producers like Africa has been declining.

A contributor to increasing chocolate consumption is consumers’ recognition of the anti-oxidant content from flavanols in cocoa which makes it ideal for cardiovascular health.

Van Grinsven said the Philippines has a ready market in its Asian neighbors that have cocoa processing plants including Malaysia, Japan, and Indonesia which import a combined 220,000 metric tons of good quality fermented beans from west Africa, source of 70 percent of world’s cocoa.

The Philippines has competitive advantage over Africa in this trade considering its proximity to these countries that require less shipping cost.

A multi-sector supported program called the Sustainable Cocoa Development in the Philippines targets increased production through intercropping of cocoa with coconut on a total of 2.4 million hectares of presently monocropped land.

"With each cocoa tree yielding an average of 1.5 kilos at a farm gate price of $ 2.4 per kilo, a farmer tending one hectare of coconut inter-planted with 600 cocoa trees can earn an additional $ 2,160 a year or 400 percent more than from coconut alone. This answers the rural population’s need for a cash crop," said Shapiro.

One farmer is expected to maintain efficiently two to three hectares of cocoa land intercropped with coconut. Mixed cropping also offers more income stability to farmers compared to mono-cropping.

If at least 10 percent of mono-cropped coconut lands are planted with cocoa, farmers can produce more than 200,000 metric tons for cocoa export which can generate $ 300 million in export earnings.

A 2.4 hectare farm can support a family of six members which will in turn support 600,000 people with their increased income, according to Mars.

Manilla Bulletin

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