By Yvette Tan
Cacao is one of the country’s high value crops that is still full of potential in terms of both domestic consumption and export. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), as of 2018, the Philippines had an annual production of 7,983 MT—barely enough to sustain local consumption, much less international demand. This means that given the proper farming techniques and correct sales and marketing channels, a farmer can generate considerable profit from cultivating cacao.
Former mailman turned cacao farmer Grover L. Rosit is one such example. “I got married at age 23 and when I was 27, I started planting cacao little by little [while] raising and sending my six children to school…. My salary as a mailman and my wife’s [paycheck] as an elementary school teacher was just enough for us to send our children up to high school,” he said. “To prepare for their college years, I must find ways to earn extra income to save for the future of my children.”
From mailman to farmer, slowly but surely
He started Rosit Cacao Farms with his wife 32 years ago on two hectares of land his wife received from her father. “The land that my wife received from her father has already existing coconut trees. And to my observation, I cannot think of any other crops that are suited to intercrop with coconut other than cacao. Cacao is also healthier and can grow faster if it is planted with shadings,” he said.
Rosit narrated that after work and during holidays and weekends, “instead of doing nothing,” he would spend time on his father-in-law’s land cultivating cacao trees. He started small, slowly growing his crop as soon as he had the capital to do so. “I started planting only five trees, then 10 trees, 20 trees, 100 trees and so on with the little money I have,” he said. “But the thing is I always make sure that each week won’t pass that I did not plant any cacao seedling.” This slow but sure growth, plus perseverance, is part of the secret to his success.
Now, Rosit cultivates around 20 hectares located in Baguio, Davao City, and Arakan, North Cotabato. “ Per hectare has 800 to 1,100 cacao trees with a distance of 3 by 3 meters, which is ideal for cacao,” he said.
The farm grows, “‘Hybrid Trinitario Variety – UF18 pollinated with BR25,’ which are Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) accredited clones and National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) approved and registered hybrid types,” he said. “Trinitario is a special variety because it is a combination of Forastero (Foreign) and Criollo (Native Variety) varieties. Trinitarios bear much more fruit than any other varieties in the Philippines.”
He adds, “Some of the characteristics of Trinitario is that it produces big pods/fruit, [its] seeds are heavy, [it is] highly resistant to pests and diseases, and [has been] proven and tested for massive production, even for a long period of time. We’ve been propating UF18 and BR25 clones for more than three decades now.”
Growing cacao in Davao
Cacao is grown in many provinces as a backyard plant andis usually processed as tablea. It is most associated with the Davao Region, which, according to the PSA, supplies 81% of the country’s cacao crop.
“Davao soil types are mixed clays with loamy sand, clays and silt which is ideal for cacao. Cacao is not so sensitive to what kind of soil it will be planted because cacao is a forest tree, just like acacia,” Rosit said.
“Cacao is more sensitive to climate, not to soil so make sure to prepare first temporary or permanent shadings before planting cacao. Cacao is grown in tropical climates not more than 1,000 meters above sea level, mostly on earth’s equator areas. Cacao can thrive in around 95% of the Philippines’ land area.”
Rosit intercrops his cacao with “banana, papaya, mangosteen, durian, and other fast-growing crops like cassava,” though he prefers intercropping with bananas the most. “Cacao is healthier under shades especially during its juvenile stage. A shading is required for Cacao trees especially those 4 years old below. Young cacao trees cannot withstand the heat of the sun if it will be planted in an area with 100% sunlight,” he said.
“We also under crop vegetables to help eliminate the growth of weeds, such as squash, corn, and other crawling vegetables,” he added. “As a farmer, one of your top priorities is to have a productive farm is to make sure that there are no areas in which weeds dominate. Weeds are to me the most expensive part to manage if you are not creative to outweigh them.” Undercropping, or undersowing, is sowing a second crop underneath the main crop primarily for soil health, and secondarily for extra profit.
The best time to plant cacao is around June to December, “after heavy rain or after summer.” “We discourage planting cacao during summer or straight sunny days,” Rosit cautioned.
Harvesting can be done year-round. “Cacao is not a seasonal fruit unlike other fruit trees,” Rosit explained. “When cacao already reach five years old and above, as long as you put the right fertilization, it will bear flowers and fruits from time to time and you can even do harvesting once every two weeks or twice a month.”
Rosit admitted that climate change has added to the uncertainty of a livelihood that already depends on the whims of the elements, but added that their constant vigilance has so far been successful in mitigating its effects.
“We always make sure that our farm has proper drainage systems to cope with long rainy seasons and has a mini reservoir under each cacao tree using coconut choirs and organic basals to hold water during long sunny periods,” he said.
“We also do selective maintenance to maximize our efforts and minimize expenses,” he said. “As a farmer, our goal is always to produce more but at same time minimize costs as [much as] possible.”
Photos courtesy of Grover Rosit.