What we learned at the Cacao Congress in “Chocolate City,” Philippines

Above: a RIISA MEDA staff member explaining the project to an attendee

Last week, chocolate was on our minds in Davao City, the “Chocolate Capital of the Philippines.”

Under the theme “Cacao is Gold,” over 1,800 participants attended the Annual National Cacao Congress on November 24th-25th held in Davao City hosted by the Philippine Cacao Industry Association. The purpose of this event was to support the Philippines’ cacao industry to reach its full potential. MEDA presented its Global Affairs-funded Resilience and Inclusion through Investment for Sustainable Agrikultura (RIISA) project. The interactive agenda featured the International Cacao Organization, global chocolate business stakeholders like Barry Callebaut and Mars Wrigley, government representatives from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry, local small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners in the cacao industry, scientists, and others. Participants were invited to join the conversation and ask questions to presenters.

Here are three key lessons from the event

Supporting small-scale cacao farmers is crucial

Most of the cacao in the Mindanao region (which produces 80% of the country’s cacao) is grown by small-scale farmers. Yet, limited investment and technical knowledge about growing climate-resilient cacao crops have led to lower-yielding cacao and low incomes for the small scale producers. As a result, farmers are not incentivized to grow this crop since they cannot earn a decent living in this agricultural sector.

Cacao industry leaders Barry Callebaut and Mars Wrigley highlighted the importance of smallholder farmers (SHFs) in the chocolate industry. Increased yield and productivity will provide stronger incentives for farmers to increase their output and support growing global demand for chocolate.

Better knowledge can lead to higher yields and higher-quality cacao beans

Academics from the University of Southern Mindanao discussed more climate-resilient ways to grow cacao and increase the yield. They promoted the agroforestry approach to create resilient landscapes that give farmers several sources of income and are more resilient to increasingly dramatic climate events. Having higher trees to shelter plants, intercropping (growing two or more crops on the same field at the same time) with coconut and other crops and timely and regular pruning are important for maximum growth. Higher yields per tree are realized when more than one variety of cacao are planted throughout the farm. More eco-friendly planting patterns increases farmers’ resilience to climate events and leads to higher incomes for farmers.

Cacao is an in-demand crop

Representatives from the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), Mars Wrigley, and Barry Callebaut provided an overview of global cacao trends. They had some good news – there is an increased demand for Philippine cacao, or ‘bean to bar’ sustainably sourced chocolate. This market demand for Philippines cacao is being driven by consumers in Asia, particularly in Japan and South Korea, for the Philippines “fine-flavored” cacao. Strengthening farmers’ capacities to grow unique Philippines cacao and improve the post-harvest processing of the beans can increase the quality of the beans.

The takeaway

With the right financial incentives, better climate-resilient techniques and technology, and support from private industry and the government, cacao farmers can increase their output. This, in turn, can create decent work for themselves and their communities and contribute to a better quality of life.

MEDA was pleased to present at this event to help promote sustainable cacao production in the Philippines. Its RIISA project supports more than 25,000 people, including women and men, cacao SHFs, cooperatives, enterprises, and investors to strengthen their engagement in the cacao market. As a result, MEDA is advancing its ten-year goal of creating or sustaining decent jobs for 500,000 people.

Above: Sample cacao products on display by SMEs at the Cacao Congress Exhibition

Please stay connected with us to read our second blog, which will be released soon. If you’re interested in reading more, check out MEDA’s Storehouse for more great content. Learn how entrepreneurs and farmers use their skills and talents to build prosperous businesses and livelihoods.



  • Roderick Valones

    Market Systems Technical Lead / Environment and Climate Change Focal Person, RIISA, MEDA. Roderick has over 11 years in leading and managing programs and development and emergency response initiatives involving multi-disciplinary teams.

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