Virginia De Villa: Making Pinoy Chocolate World Class

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As a big fan of all things chocolate, Virginia De Villa, or Gigi as most people know her, had her childhood imagination fired up by the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book by Roald Dahl turned into two films, about a poor boy who suddenly inherited a magical chocolate factory.

As co-founder and spokesperson of Reál Cacao, a local manufacturer of chocolate confectioneries and other chocolate-based products, Gigi has known that the Philippines is one of the suppliers of cacao beans to big international chocolate brands.

She remarks that despite being supplier to major chocolate brands, the Philippines chocolate industry has yet to produce local high quality chocolate that can compete on the global market, alongside Hershey’s and Cadbury.

Social Enterprise
This is where Reál Cacao comes in. The company is a social enterprise that helps Filipino cacao farmers make more profits from their cacao cash crops through education, training, and empowerment.

At the same time, Reál Cacao intends to lead the way for Filipino chocolate companies to become leading brands in the international chocolate market.

Some of us would ask, how can social enterprises help strengthen the agricultural sector? How can social enterprise and agriculture bring about national economic development?

As far as Gigi is concerned, revitalizing the local chocolate is one key.

Gigi proudly shares that Reál Cacao is a social enterprise that aims to create world-class Filipino chocolates, while giving opportunities to cacao farmers around the Philippines.

She believes that social enterprise is one way that Filipino entrepreneurs can help in nation building.

She says, “As a social enterprise, we are challenged not just to think of creating products but to also think of how we can make a dent in the industry if we want to bring as many communities as we can out of poverty.”

Gigi thinks that companies in the country are capable of helping end poverty in the agricultural sector if they take the social enterprise approach.

“One of the many issues our cacao farmers face is the lack of access to post-harvest facilities which will enable them to create value-adding cacao products,” she says.

The Philippines has a total agricultural land area of 9.671 million hectares. The farmer sector accounts for the largest share in the labor force with 32% of the workforce in agricultural jobs.

In spite of these figures, the farming sector is still one of the poorest in the country.

World Class and Homegrown
What makes Reál Cacao different from foreign chocolate brands is that it offers world-class chocolate products with a homegrown taste to ensure a Reál and royal chocolate experience.

Gigi proudly tells customers that Reál Cacao is the Filipino chocolate with a homegrown taste and world-class quality.

Part of the company’s vision is to stay true to the origin of the word “reál”. That includes being true to their purpose, which is to uplift the lives of Filipino cacao farmers and make them feel proud of their work.

She says, “My dream is that someday our farmers can say with dignity, ‘We are farmers’ instead of saying, ‘We are just farmers’.

Cacao Industry Bids For ‘Sweet Success’

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The rebirth of a Philippine world-class product

By Allysa Faye Greganda

By 2020, the world’s need for cacao beans is projected to increase by 30%, yet the country’s production has yet to meet the demand. If our cacao industry can do so, then there is hope for the Philippine agricultural sector.

While Filipinos crave for imported chocolates, better think again: first-rate quality cocoa can be grownin your backyard. It is the same reason why the Department of Agriculture keeps an eye on this delectable opportunity for the country’s agri-production.

This month, DA just handed an initial P14M for cacaoagri-business zones (CABZs) in Davao City.

Being endowed with such perfect soil composition and sun temperature, the Philippine’s cacao industry is a potential big exporter—only if more farmers would invest into it.

The truth is, cacao seeds do not grow in thewestern countries known to produce these mouth-watering chocolates, including Japan. Raising cacao trees haveclimatic requirements.

Land capability

Rainfall should range from 1250 to 3000 mm per annum while 1500-2000 mm during dry season of not more than 3 months. Maximum temperature is 32°C and the minimum is 18°C. Altitude of the area must lie between 300-1200 meters above sea level.

Cacao thrives best in areas with evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. As of now, cacao plantations can be found in the areas of Mindanao specially Davao and CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) in Luzon.

The cacao industry has never grown into its full potential. Moreover, we even import 20,000 metric tons of cocoa beans from Africa last 2008 up to this date, costing $42 million a year.

During 1980s, Philippines has shared 20% of the world’s need for cocoa. The industry declinedaltogether with the rise of CARP.

Discovering these lost chances, the DA and Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) made partnerships with different companies to help boost cacao farming in the country.

BAR also collaborated with Cocoaphil for the Sustainable Cacao Program. The target now is to be able to produce 100,000 metric tons by 2020 from our usual production of 25,000 metric tons yearly.

As for the initial funding, P1.75 million has been allotted for the distribution of seedlings.

P2.5 million goes for production equipment’s and machinery. Post-harvest facilities and other infrastructure costs P6.22 million, marketing development services amounts to P200,000, while P615,000 budget allotted in training for new and current cacao industry players.

Made in the Philippines

“Dry like a full bodied well-aged red wine,” these were the words Shawn Askinosie of the world’s famous Zingerman’s Deli said to describe the Philippine Tablea (chocolate).

So far, there had been few who attempts in making it into the exporting world—all by themselves. Rob Crisostomo started as a simple farmer then eventually founded the Seed Core Enterprises in Davao.

He now exports container load of Philippine cacao to Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest supplier of high quality chocolate and cacao products. It just proves that cacao made in the Philippines is globally competitive.

This will not only give glory to the country but also provide livelihood for many families.

The secret of Philippine cacao beans is in how our farmers carefully process the seedlings from planting, harvesting and even in quality control phase. Filipino women are the usual laborers in cacao plantations. DA said that this type of farming is gender-sensitive, that is why women are the preferred laborers.

As of now, there are 20,000 hectares of cacao trees in Davao, and 70% of the annual production of the crop come from the same province. The industry has helped 16,000 farmers and 340 cooperatives, according to Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines.

Indeed, this industry has becoming a good source of livelihood for most Filipinos in the South.

Harvesting Hope

It is a wise decision for DA to finally revive the cacao industry. This can even lift the country into poverty. We should focus more into utilizing our lands because the Philippines’climate and environment has the perfect set up for growing such crops.

Our true wealth is our agriculture because not all countries are capable of producing crops such as cacao beans. Our government has to realize that prosperity in our country does not merely relyon just ICT, business empires and technology.

It will be beneficial for the country’s economy if the budget allocation for this industry is increased.

(Ms. Greganda is a graduating student of AB Communication in the University of Perpetual Help System Laguna. She is currently working in OpinYon as an intern. She also loves sweets, including chocolate.)