Chocolate and bananas are a delicious combination, but did you know that these two crops also pair well together in the field?

Cacao has been on the news lately. What isn’t talked about is how many cacao farmers have been commenting that it takes a long time – about four years –for cacao trees to be profitable.

I talked to Grover Rosit of Rosit Cacao Farms, a former mailman who has been farming cacao for more than 30 years.

One of the most interesting things Rosit mentioned is that by intercropping bananas with cacao, not only will the farmer have a source of profit while they wait for their cacao trees to mature, planting these two crops together also lessens the effort needed in cultivation.

Cacao trees need to be grown from seed, and after cultivation and grafting, have to be anywhere from six to nine months old before being transferred to the field.

While the cacao seedlings are being grown in the nursery, the farmer prepares the field by planting banana trees. By the time the cacao seedlings are ready to be transplanted, the banana trees will have grown and will have started producing bananas.

Young cacao trees need 70-80 percent shade, which will be provided by the banana trees’ large leaves. The banana trees will also serve as the farmer’s source of income while the cacao plants continue to grow. The farmer can harvest bananas every 15 days, and the fruit is very easy to sell in the market.

Rosit also shared two more reasons cacao and bananas make excellent companion crops: both crops use the same fertilizers, and the crops do not attract the same type of pests. The farmer can save money and effort by using the same kind of fertilizer on both the productive banana trees and growing cacao plants. And because they don’t attract the same kind of pests, if one crop suffers an infestation, at least the other crop remains unharmed.

But wait! There’s more! When cacao plants reach maturity, they need to be exposed to 70-80 percent sunlight. How will they get that if they are shaded by banana trees? According to Rosit, if the farmer times everything properly, this won’t be a problem. A banana tree is productive for about five years, after which it begins to decline. If timed right, the decline of the banana trees will coincide with the maturity of the cacao plants. Both banana and cacao will fight for survival, with the cacao eventually winning. The banana trees die natural deaths while the cacao ones begin to thrive. The farmer will have switched from harvesting bananas to cacao without having to exert extra effort.

This may sound easy on paper, but if one wants to get into any kind of business endeavor, including farming, it’s best to do so armed with as much information as possible. Rosit has heard many stories of people who have failed at farming because they didn’t want to spend on fertilizer or thought they could start farming without learning the specifics needed to care for cacao.

He also says that while there’s a market for dried fermented beans, if a farmer wants to increase their income, they should venture into value-adding. Examples include tablea from cacao beans, wine and vinegar from cacao juice, and tea from cacao leaves. All these, combined with proper marketing and business strategies, will mean extra income for the enterprising farmer. This formula has worked for him, as he managed to send six children to college by growing cacao on two hectares of land and branching out into value-added products, seed production, and farm training.

As Rosit says, “Don’t just think as a farmer. Be an agripreneur.”

This article first appeared in Manila Bulletin’s Opinion section