By Zac B. Sarian

Climate change is for real and has been affecting farming in the Philippines. Just like the durian and pomelo farms established by the late Severino Belviz in Davao City, now managed by his son Emmanuel.

Cacao between old durian trees.

Emmanuel, or Nhel, revealed that the La Niña in some of the past years had rendered pomelo production problematic. Too much rain in most parts of the year resulted in the poor fruiting of the pomelos. The fruits were not as sweet as in the old days when there was a definite seasonal occurrence. The rainy season made it hard to control rind borers that attacked the fruits, Nhel said. The pest could be controlled, he admitted, but pesticides are very expensive and also dangerous to the workers. So Nhel decided to phase out the pomelo project and started to plant cacao between a few trees that remained.

The durian plantation which covered more than 20 hectares was also affected by climate change. Because of El Niño, many of the trees suffered from dieback. So, without eliminating the durian trees that were alive, Nhel also planted cacao between them.

He said that four years ago, in 2013, he tried planting cacao on two hectares. The result was very good, and so he has continued planting more cacao so that 60 percent of the 30 hectares is now planted to cacao. This crop is excellent in a number of ways. It has a short gestation period. In two years, the grafted seedlings started producing fruits.

What is very good going for Nhel and his wife Mary Grace is that the couple has been processing durian into various products like durian jam, jelly, yema, and candy. And now, with the production of cacao, the couple has gone into tablea and chocolate making. One very timely development was a scholarship grant in 2015 from the University of Ghent in Belgium that enabled Mary Grace to train in chocolate making. She trained for three weeks, all expenses paid for by the university.

A few years earlier, Grace also received a grant for business training at the University of Asia and the Pacific from Goldman Sachs. Under the program, Norman Sachs wanted to empower at least 10,000 women around the world by giving them training in business.

Right now, the enterprising Belviz couple has come up with three different types of chocolate (Rosario’s brand) and tablea. They are packed beautifully with attractive designs. The couple has been the beneficiary of the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SETUP) of the Department of Science and Technology.

Under SETUP, the couple availed themselves of interest-free loans to acquire equipment for making processed durian and cacao products. They have availed themselves of the program three times already, with a P2 million interestfree loan as their latest for a walk-in cold storage facility.

The beauty of the SETUP scheme of the DOST is that the beneficiaries are able to repay their loans on time because their loans are used to upgrade the entrepreneurs’ efficiency, while at the same time improving the quality of their products, making them more competitive in the home market as well as abroad.

Mary Grace and her durian and chocolate products.

The Belviz couple has started sharing their know-how on cacao production and processing. Recently, the Department of Trade and Industry sponsored their workshop on “Bean to Bar” chocolate making in Tuguegarao City. Some other places have also been lined up for similar workshops, particularly in other parts of Mindanao and as far as the Ilocos region.

The Belviz couple could become technology providers to the government agencies and local government units that would like to have their constituents learn chocolate processing and cacao production. This could be a money-making project for the couple.

Nhel said that the Department of Tourism is planning the undertaking of a Cacao Tourism program in which foreign and local visitors can participate. The Belviz farm with their processing facilities and cacao plantation could be an ideal destination for cacao tourism participants.

The Belviz couple could offer training sessions right in their farm. And there are other possibilities there. The couple could offer not only chocolate and durian products but also other souvenir items like what the Leisure Farms in Taiwan are doing.

For more information, contact Nhel at 0917.704.7886.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2018 issue.