French chocolate producer sees potential in WV cacao

By Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ILOILO City – “The very goal is to inspire Ilonggo farmers to go into quality cacao production,” said Benjamin Figarede, CEO of French premium chocolate manufacturer Valrhona Chocolate, during the CacaoLink Visayas confab on Oct. 5 at the Royal Garden Hall in Iloilo City.

Along with Philippine Cacao Industry Council chairman Valente Turtur – a major producer of cacao in Davao region – Figarede is bullish on the prospects of Western Visayas as fertile ground for the growth of the local cacao industry.

“We first received samples [of the cacao cultivated in the Philippines] through the help of the Department and Trade and Industry (DTI), and we greatly appreciated the quality of the samples sent to us from Mindanao,” Figarede told reporters. “My presence here is to discover cacao from the other regions of the Philippines and get a better look at the prospects of the entire industry to consider for future partnerships or purchase.”

Valrhona is a high-grade luxury chocolate producer based in Tain-l’Hermitage, France founded in 1922. The heritage company focuses mainly on chocolate marketed for culinary use by chefs, as well as for commercial consumption.

“There is a strong possibility that the Philippines will become a great producer of cacao and chocolate in the future, the [local industry] just needs to learn the proper process of producing quality cacao and apply it strictly,” Figarede added.

According to data from the UP Visayas – GIZ (Gesundheits Informations Zentrum) program, Panay has a total of 252 farms currently cultivating cacao, with a total of 197,718 cacao trees in the entire Panay Island. Iloilo Province leads with the most number of cacao trees at 125, followed by Antique (53), Aklan (48), and Capiz (26).

“DTI is promoting for greater consumer awareness and consumption and with that the local demand will also grow,” explained Cacao Industry Council chairman Turtur, one of the conveners of the event. “In Davao, we started with 5 or 6 processors, now we have over 200 chocolate processors in the Davao region. We can also develop that here in Iloilo.”

The Cacao Industry Council chairman estimates that the Philippines requires 50 thousand metric tons  of cacao every year, but production is stalled at 12 thousand metric tons annually, leading to the need to rely heavily on imports from Malaysia and Indonesia.

“We look forward to this opportunity,” said DTI Region 6 director Rebecca Rascon on the outlook of Western Visayas as a potential industry leader in cacao production.

Pero ang opportunity magapabilin dira kung hindi natun pagiseize. Ara sa atun ang resource and potential, the challenge is how we will be using the resource for our growth,” the Trade official furthered, highlighting the efforts of DTI and the Department of Agriculture to shape a comprehensive Philippine Cacao Industry Roadmap./PN