Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos courtesy of DENR/USAID and Wikipedia
Cacao grows well in the Philippines as the country’s climate and soils are conducive to the crop. One good thing about cacao is that it can be integrated with other crops in a multistorey cropping system. In fact, forestry experts have identified cacao as an agroforestry crop.
Agroforestry involves the deliberate growing of trees and shrubs with crops and/or animals in the same area. Today, acting as an interface between agriculture and forestry, agroforestry is considered to be a promising and sustainable approach to land use.
In Zamboanga City, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had chosen cacao as the primary crop to be planted around the vicinity of the Pasonanca Natural Park when it launched the Protect Wildlife Project.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), upon seeing that cacao farming can be a sustainable livelihood project for farmers living in the natural park, helped finance the project.
Today, five years later, the farmers – who have formed into associations – are now supplying cacao beans to Kennemer Foods International (KFI), an agribusiness company whose cacao beans are raw materials for making world-famous Hershey’s chocolate.
Initially, the farmers are supplying 10 to 20 sacks of dried cacao beans per month. The volume is expected to increase next year.
“By the middle of next year, we will have been ready to harvest from more cacao areas that we helped rehabilitate,” said Dr. Reynaldo C. Navacilla, field manager of Protect Wildlife project.
The produce came from the estimated 8.2 hectares of productive cacao land, which the farmers of Tolosa Buffer Zone Association (TBZA) and Salaan Buffer Zone Association (SBZA) have established together. The two associations have some 100 farmer-beneficiaries.
The Pasonanca Natural Park is a protected area that preserves a major watershed in the Zamboanga Peninsula. Named after the village located in the city’s northern fringes, it contains the headwaters of the Tumaga River in the southern Zamboanga Cordillera mountain ranges.
Water is a key watershed resource. The park is said to be the source of water for nearly one million residents in Zamboanga City. If not protected and preserved, experts claim it may dry up, and the city may end up having a water crisis.
The Pasonanca Natural Park covers an area of 10,560 hectares of forest reserve and is the largest remaining old-growth dipterocarp forest in Zamboanga. First considered a forest reserve (through Proclamation No. 199 issued by President Corazon Aquino), it was reclassified as a natural park (through Proclamation No. 132 issued by President Joseph Estrada).
Inday Campaner, protected area superintendent at Pasonanca Natural Park, said the DENR’s vision is for the Pasonanca Natural Park to become recognized as an ASEAN Heritage Park. ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
ASEAN Heritage Parks are selected based on their “unique biodiversity and ecosystems, wilderness and outstanding values in scenic, cultural, educational, research, recreational and tourism.”
As such, they become significant sites for conservation.
Strengthening the conservation program in Pasonanca is important as new flora and fauna species are being discovered in the protected area. Among the most recent discoveries were the mistletoe and amorphophollus.
The USAID financially supported the Protect Wildlife Project with the aim of rescuing wildlife and conserving flora and fauna in the protected area. Protect Wildlife is a consortium of agencies helping the watershed natives to learn agriculture and agroforestry in exchange for destructive wildlife practices.
The cacao farms of TBZA and SBZA have helped forest communities within the Pasonanca Natural Park to sustain a livelihood for themselves.
“Some of them used to poach wildlife in the area. Some of them used to get firewood in the forests in order to produce charcoal sold to bakeries downtown. With a livelihood now, the majority of them no longer do these destructive practices,” said Navacilla.
Aside from KFI, another market for their cacao beans is the JAS Agri-ventures Inc. The Kasanyangan Center for Rural Development & Microfinancing Inc (KCRDMFI) has supplied UF18 and W10 varieties of cacao seedlings to the communities. KCRDMFI also supplied the farmers with fertilizers.
Lorna Guerrero, president of TBZA, said the farmers’ group needs support in the maintenance of the cacao trees to make them bear fruit. They need fertilizers, pesticides, and perhaps sustained technical assistance for best agronomic practices in cacao farming.
Nevertheless, numerous organizations continue to aid the farmers. The USAID provided the coffee grinder to them. In addition, the USAID gave each farmer a set of three tools (including knives and pruning tools) for maintaining their farms.
Some members of the TBZA and SBZA have also been producing their homemade tableyas sold at P120 per pack. Around 50 packs are produced per month.
As to their agroforestry and intercropping practices, the farmers are able to help conserve soil, reduce soil erosion, and stabilize slopes in the mountains. Intercropped with cacao are coffee and vegetables.
The project’s livelihood program ensures that the communities in the buffer zone become protectors of the watershed, especially during critical times, especially during the pandemic.
“DENR distributed 5,400 ready-to-plant vegetable and fruit tree seedlings and 1,500 Acacia mangium seedlings to Tolosa and Salaan people’s organizations in the park’s buffer zone as part of the government’s livelihood assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the USAID reported.
The Zamboanga City local government unit hires around 120 forest guards in the protected area. In addition, it allocated P1 million yearly for the conservation of the park, being known as the habitat of the Philippine eagle and the Zamboanga bulbul, the flagship species of the park.
Pasonanca Natural Park is also home to a reported 96 highly threatened species. Aside from the two species mentioned earlier, other species found in the park include Mindanao bleeding-heart, Philippine kingfisher, Philippine leafbird, and little slaty flycatcher.
The natural park is also home to the Mindanao broadbill, azure-breasted pitta, celestial monarch, southern silvery kingfisher, blue-capped kingfisher, spotted imperial pigeon, giant scops owl, Japanese night heron, Chinese egret, rufous-lored kingfisher, Philippine dwarf kingfisher, and Philippine cockatoo.
Pasonanca Natural Park is located just 10 kilometers north of Zamboanga City proper. There are a few resorts, a hotel, cottages, and restaurants near the park’s entrance.
As it is an ecotourism – trekking and adventure – site, the Protect Wildlife Project installed monuments and markers on strict protection and multiple-use zones.
“Park signage was installed to remind nearby communities of prohibited activities in the strict protection zone and to promote agroforestry in buffer zones. Signage was installed along marked boundaries, where the threat of encroachment is high,” the USAID said.
The Protect Wildlife project also supports the Zamboanga City Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Task Force. In like manner, it helps in the enforcement of environmental laws in Zamboanga City.
Chocolates come from the seeds of cacao (called cocoa), which was first cultivated by the Mayans around the 7th century A.D. Known in the science world as Theobroma cacao, cacao literally means “Food of the Gods” in Greek.
The Mayans carried the seed north from the tropical Amazon forests to what is now Mexico. In the 16th century, the Spanish planted cacao across South America, into Central America, and onto the Caribbean Islands. In the 17th century, the Dutch transported the cacao to other places around the globe like Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, New Guinea, and the Philippines.
“In 1670, Spanish mariner Pedro Bravo de Lagunas planted the first cacao in San Jose, Batangas,” reports The Philippines Recommends for Cacao. After that, cacao growing flourished in various parts of the country – until pod rot wiped out plantations of it.
Cocoa beans are a major agricultural commodity traded worldwide. The European Union and the United States are the two biggest finished chocolate product consumers, accounting for three-quarters of total chocolate consumption, according to a position paper written by Adam Keatts and Christopher Root. Other significant chocolate consumers are Russia, Japan, and Brazil.
“Though the majority of cacao is consumed in North America and Europe, demand is growing more rapidly in Asia where strong economic growth, particularly in India and China, is resulting in more people being able to afford luxury foodstuffs such as chocolate,” Keatts and Root wrote.
Now, this is one of the good reasons why growing cacao is a good investment against the trafficking of endangered fauna living in Pasonanca Natural Park.