DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A production and trading agreement aimed to integrate and scale-up cacao production in Mindanao was sealed here recently between the local government of Marihatag in Surigao del Sur and the Kennemer Foods International (KFI).

Marihatag Mayor Alan Pelenio and KFI President Simon Bakker led the signing of agreement at the Seda Abreeza Hotel, which will initiate the massive planting of four million cacao trees in the town's 5,000 hectare pilot site.

KFI is a major supplier of US-based Mars chocolate and specializes in growing and trading high-quality agricultural crops including fermented cacao beans.

"We are more than excited about our partnership with KFI and we're optimistic that the people of Marihatag will enjoy long-term benefits from this initiative particularly that the project will be managed by our people organizations (POs)," said Pelenio.

He added that the local government plans to integrate cacao with its existing coconut plantations since "cacao is best suited to be inter-cropped with coconut trees."

Pelenio said that part of the agreement with KFI is the capacity building of its POs since these organizations will be trained on the latest cacao production technologies to ensure the project's success.

The initial planting of the cacao trees commenced on Friday in which 1,600 trees were planted in the town's 2-hectare demo farm. The event was participated in by officials and staff of the Marihatag Local Government Unit (LGU), local chief executives of the province of Surigao del Sur, staff members of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), and farmers in the area.

"A P600,000 worth of cacao seedlings, or 30,000 trees will be planted next week," said Pelenio while adding "we will be spending P50,000.00 per hectare for land preparation and eventual harvesting since it would take at least 18 months for cacao trees to mature and bear fruits."

An estimated annual gross income of P180,000.00 per hectare is projected to be generated from the project which is expected to generate more than 500 jobs.

"Aside from providing us with technical support, KFI is the assured market for our produce," he said.

MinDA Chair Luwalhati Antonino, who witnessed the agreement signing encouraged local chief executives in the island-region to grow chocolate-producing cacao, of which its demand is currently seeing a spike in the global market.

"Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry and Mindanao has vast tracts of land suitable for cacao," she said while adding "Mindanao strives to become the country's leader in cacao production."

Mindanao's effort to scale-up its cacao production is part of the ongoing initiatives of MinDA's "Inclusive Growth Program," which seeks to facilitate investments that result in jobs and community empowerment, such as agribusiness projects where communities become integral to the supply chain.

The initiative is also part of the Barangay StraTREEgic Forest Program (BSFP), a project of MinDA's MindaNOW! Nurturing Our Waters Program, which supports the National Greening Program (NGP) that aims to plant 1.5 billion trees covering 1.5 million hectares across the country from 2011 to 2016.
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