A small group of farmers from Davao Oriental may have finally struck gold in their cacao beans. After about 10 years of tilling their land and selling raw cacao beans, members of the Mayo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (MAGREBCO) recently decided to try their hand at processing tablea or cacao tablets—and quickly realized this was their ticket to sweet earnings from those dark crops. “In March, we sold our first tablea order to Jollibee Foundation,” said Joie Nugas, chairman of the board of MAGREBCO.
Davao’s weather is ideal for growing cacao. Photos: Courtesy of DAR Davao
“We want to sustain the making of tablea so that we can involve the wives of our members in the process, and they can earn extra for their needs.” It’s not just the giant Filipino fast food chain that has been knocking on the doors of the cooperative for their tablea. Cooperative manager Boy Galon shared that a visitor from Missouri, U.S.A. once came over to MAGREBCO’s office and bought samples of dried cacao beans, which he processed into chocolate. The American said he was impressed by MAGREBCO’s product because it contained 75 percent cacao. The beans he bought from Ecuador had only 65 percent cacao, he said. While the supply of raw materials is not an issue, Nugas said that the cooperative needed training and equipment to be able to meet the demand for cacao tablets. He said that the cooperative had to turn down offers for them to supply other groups because MAGREBCO would not be able to produce the volume that is needed.
“We have a lot of orders, but we lack the equipment and training so we can meet their orders,” he said. With the help of the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Trade and Industry, MAGREBCO members attended seminars to help them run their cooperative better. Today, the group continues to seek trainings so their products can penetrate and dominate the tablea market. In the past three years, MAGREBCO has produced around 1,000 packs of tablea, each containing five tablets, which the cooperative sold on a per-order basis. A pack retails for P50. The tableas are a big hit in local bakeshops in Mati.
The cooperative is anticipating an increase in demand for cacao tablets as eight different groups have expressed interest in getting their tablea requirement from MAGREBCO, Galon said. MAGREBCO farmers are tilling an aggregate 616-ha land they received under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. TheSun-dried cacao beans fetch a bettermarket price than oven dried beans. Courtesy of DAR Davao landholding was previously owned by the Hacienda Mayo Inc. until the government acquired and distributed it to farmer in 2003. Nugas recalled that the owners were very cordial with the beneficiaries. When the land was distributed to them, “it was peaceful and everyone was very, very happy.” He said he has since sent his five kids to college, and he’s still enjoying farm work. Aside from cacao trees, the cooperative grows banana and coconut in the plantation but MAGREBCO’s main produce is still cacao because these fetch a better price than other crops. A kilo of dry cacao beans used to sell for around P90 to P100, but the price has since dropped to P65 per kilo.
“We couldn’t negotiate for a better price because buyers would quickly go to (other sellers) if we don’t agree to their price. That’s why we want to produce tablea because it will fare better in the market,” Nugas said. The summer months are usually the harvest season of cacao, and each farmer can have a yield of 50 kilos every week. In lean months, farmers harvest around 30 kilos every two weeks to allow the trees to grow beans just right. Cacao growers can sell the beans right away after harvest, but cacao sells higher when it’s dried. It takes about three days for the beans to dry well in the sun and about 12 hours using an indoor dryer, according to Nugas.
While sun-drying may take more time, it requires less capital and labour. MAGREBCO farmers have no problem sun-drying beans. It took them 10 years to make a hit tablea—a few days in the sun won’t hurt if the end product can be turned to gold.