By Vina Medenilla
High productivity, improved quality, and diversity are three things that Edwin Banquerigo of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) believes are key to harmonizing local cacao production and increasing farmers’ income.
Identifying these three strategies is congruent with the understanding of the barriers to industry growth, which is vital to address for the sector to progress.
This is what Banquerigo discussed during the Luzon island’s Consultative Congress event titled, “A competitive and sustainable Philippine cacao industry.”
Here are some of the industry issues he raised during the session:
- Poor quality of seedling materials
Behind a successful tree is a healthy and high-quality seedling or seed. It’s the same with cacao trees. Having high-quality seedlings, however, does not always ensure a hundred percent success rate in the development of cacao trees.
Banquerigo said that the timing of seedling planting or distribution should always be considered. Cacao seedlings must be sowed at the onset of the rainy season (and not at the peak of summer) for them to survive.
Overgrown seedlings, poor root structure and development due to the use of small containers, and integrity of grafters and nursery operators are some of the concerns that Banquerigo has observed in this aspect.
“Let’s be very honest in the production of cacao seedlings that we sell to the farmers, because to me, if you would like to prolong poverty, it’s by giving bad seedlings, which we should not do,” Banquerigo appealed to unsavory seedling sellers and nursery operators who take advantage of the cacao growers.
- Low productivity level
The following factors contribute to the cacao trees’ inefficiency: low quality seedlings; low planting density; excessive and inappropriate pruning practices; too much shade for mature trees; open canopy that leads to wilting of flowers and cherelle due to overexposure to direct sunlight; poor pest and disease management; and ineffective use or the absence of fertilizer.
“Are you aware that one [cacao] pod requires at least 45 leaves to survive? Look into the number of pods and the number of leaves. Excessive pruning practices are one of the reasons why your productivity is very low.”
Banquerigo added that there must also be 30 percent shade for cacao trees, just enough for them to be protected from the direct sun and to have sufficient sunlight that they need.
- Low field operational efficiency
Having inefficient fields is caused by many factors, such as unproductive trees, planting patterns and tree formation that restrict workers’ movement, uncontrolled height of the cacao trees, development of pods beyond workers’ reach that sometimes damages the trees, and failure to use Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) for farms in upland areas.
- Low quality of production
Numerous cacao producers in the Philippines likewise struggle with product quality. According to Banquerigo, this is typically brought about by diseases like pod rot, germinated seeds due to late harvest, farmers’ lack of awareness on cacao quality and standards as well as skills in fruit care and post-harvest management, lack of fermentation and drying facilities, and the absence of cacao bean graders in some regions.
Cacao production recommendations
Aside from these sector’s concerns, Banquerigo presented recommendations from their upcoming book titled, “Technical Guide on Cacao Production and Postharvest,” which was produced by or agreed upon by cacao industry experts.
To prevent the experiencing difficulties above, they recommend using 8×2 seedling bag size and clonal varieties for rootstock that are pest and disease-resistant. For promising yields, they specifically suggest NSIC varieties including PBC123, BR25, UF18, UIT1, K1, K2, K9, and non-NSIC varieties, namely W10, PG610, EM 617, and M02.
Additionally, the optimal growing elevation ranges from 300 to 700 meters above sea level.
When intercropping, make sure to plant cacao at least 2.5 meters away from intercropped trees. Do not plant trees or plants that can harm or expose your cacao trees to certain pests and diseases, such as rambutan.
Planting cacao under trees that form closed canopies like mango, falcata, and rubber trees is also discouraged. They may only be cultivated alongside these trees if adequate sunlight and spacing are provided.
“I saw farms [with cacao trees] under rubber and falcata [trees]. Their [cacao] trees are robust, but there are no fruits [in them],” Banquerigo remarked.
To encourage successful cross-pollination in one location, three to five cacao varieties are preferred.
A controlled pruning that doesn’t remove more than 20 percent of the leaves is also preferable. Pruning must be preceded or followed by fertilizer application.
Finally, when it comes to shade, he added, “We make it very clear that [shade] may not be required for areas with good climatic conditions, but for hot weather conditions, you still need shade.” Overshading, however, is also not good, so thinning must be carried out.