(STAR) By Rudy A. Fernandez - A Philippine chocolate industry?

Yes, the country has the potential of developing one since it has the two major ingredients for such a business venture — cacao and sugar.

Cacao seeds are the sources of commercial cocoa, chocolate and cocoa butter. Fermented seeds are roasted and ground to give a powdery mass from which fat is expressed. In the preparation of chocolate, this mass is mixed with sugar, flavoring and extra cocoa.

Moreover, the country has food scientists and technologists who can be harnessed for the prupose.

As once asserted by Dr. Feliciano Calora, a noted Los Baños scientist: “We have the talent. We need to establish a food science laboratory, put together scientists and provide them with enough funds and require the laboratory to produce chocolate candy that can compete in the world market.”

A few years back, Dr. Calora, a former UP Los Baños (UPLB) professor-scientist, led a team that reviewed research projects funded by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

One of the projects assessed was that on cacao conducted by the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan, North Cotabato. It focused on Criollo, one of three cacao varieties with superior quality that thrives in the country.

It is said that the most prized chocolate comes from Criollo cacao trees, grown mainly in South and Central America. (Cacao was introduced in the Philippines in 1670 by a Spanish mariner.)

The Missouri (USA)-based Askinosie Chocolate factory launched recently Philippine cacao made into chocolate bars as part of the sought-after Askinosie chocolate lines. Askinosie had earlier been sourcing its cacao from Mexico, Venezuela and Ecuador.

A DA-BAR-funded research, development and extension (RDE) program for cacao covering 2008-2012 will be implemented by the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (SMIARC).

Along this line, BAR recently organized a consultation meeting with the private sector and DA units to discuss the status of the country’s cacao industry and explore possible areas of cooperation.

Cacao is now part of the commodities prioritized by the DA-Ginintuang Masaganang Ani-High Value Commercial Crops program, DA-GMA-HVCCP’s Jenny Remoquillo said at the meeting.

CocoaPhil president Josephine Ramos also discussed the proposed strategic action plan on the Philippine cacao road map.

“The plan is to intercrop at least 50 million cacao trees with coconut, producing at least 100,000 metric tons of export-quality cacao beans,” she said.

Southern Mindanao, particularly Davao, is the country’s biggest cacao-producing area, followed by CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon).

Although the cacao RDE program, which has its focus on Criollo, does not mention a chocolate industry, it may lead to the idea of developing one.

And sugar?

The Philippine Sugar Research Foundation, Inc. (Philsurin) reported recently that the country produced a record of 2.45 million metric tons of sugar in crop year 2007-2008.

“This was the highest in 25 years,” reported the institute headed by Director General Leon Arceo.

With enough sugar and the bright prospects of Criollo production, a local chocolate industry is not far-fetched. All that is needed is to harness the country’s scientific minds, government industry policymakers and the business sector to craft and support a chocolate industry program.

Scientists and researchers should be sent abroad to study the industry. Once the product is out, the private sector can come in for the commercialization phase.

Dr. Calora expressed confidence that in a few years, a Philippine chocolate product can be developed under such a program.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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