By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Who doesn’t love chocolate? The delectable treat made from the seeds (or beans) of the cacao tree is truly enjoyed by many, regardless of age and origin.

According to Josephine Ramos, president of the Organization for Partnerships, Teamwork, and Initiatives on Opportunities for Nature Stewards, Inc. (OPTIONS), the local market consumes about 90 percent of mainstream chocolate, 70 percent of premium chocolate, and 27 percent of fine artisanal chocolate.

Cacao (Theobroma cacao) beans are said to have originated from South America and are used as the primary ingredient in making chocolates and other related products, such as cocoa butter.

The pods contain about 20 to 50 seeds which are usually arranged in five distinct rows. Its tree can grow up to 66 feet and can live for up to 40 years, while the commercial cocoa tree lasts about 25 years.

“Growing cacao has its own set of requirements. You have to plant the seeds or cuttings in rich, loamy soil and at a location that has an even distribution of rain throughout the year,” Ramos said.

There are two ways to grow cacao: one is by direct seeding, and the other is through
vegetative propagation.

“When growing cacao using seeds, it is crucial to get the seeds from a ripe and healthy pod to ensure that the outcome will be productive and healthy as well,” Ramos said.

In the meantime, vegetative propagation includes a technique such as grafting. In this
method, selecting a healthy, disease-free cutting from a mother tree is a key step in
determining the future growth of the cacao tree.

However, despite the quality of the cacao tree where the seeds or cuttings have been taken from, it is still necessary for producers to keep a close eye on their plants for signs of disease and damages to rapidly mitigate its harmful effects.

Ramos also explained that the local market has a continuous demand for quality cacao
beans that the local producers need to meet because of the crop’s natural versatility to be
made into various products, such as tablea, cacao nibs, and others.

Cacao producers can either venture into value-adding for an additional income, or become partner-farmers of several local brands for a sustainable livelihood.

Other than fetching a good price, cacao beans give healthful benefits to regular consumers as well; they contain calcium, antioxidants, iron, and magnesium for better health.

Several research studies also claim that consuming cacao can help remedy people with
depression, stress, high-blood pressure, and heart ailments.

Ramos is the incumbent president of OPTIONS: a non-government organization for cacao, coffee, and coconut industry development and market facilitation.She conducted the lecture last August 23 at the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) in Quezon City as part of the Institute’s series of free seminars for the second half of the year.