How I learned to appreciate the value of chocolate in the chocolate capital of the Philippines

Above: (From left to right) Catherine Sobrevega, Gabriel, and Michael, Rosario's next generation of entrepreneurs

July 9th was World Chocolate Day so it was fitting for me to have celebrated in Davao City, the Chocolate Capital of the Philippines. Yet, I didn’t always have a strong appreciation for this remarkable crop. My appreciation for cacao changed when I moved to Davao City for the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) – funded Resilience and Inclusion on Investment for Sustainable Agriculture (RIISA) project. Working in Davao City gives me an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the sector, its diverse stakeholders, and how the market is evolving in its production, processing, and marketing capacities.

In Davao City, chocolate matters. There are many chocolate processors and Davao City and Davao region were also recently declared “the Chocolate Capital of the Philippines” by a recent act of the Congress of the Philippines. This shows the role that the cacao sector plays in driving rural development. The importance of the cacao crop has further motivated local producers to increase the value of their products and generate additional revenue through value added processing, such as chocolates, “tableya” and other unique cacao-based treats.

For this year’s World Chocolate Day, the Davao City Cacao Industry Council and their partners brought together 12 chocolate and cacao treat crafters for the three day Chocolate Fair from July 7th to 9th, at Abreeza Mall in Davao City. The participating companies provided free samples including chocolate bars, drinks, and cacao nibblers. It was exciting to taste and buy different cacao products in the fair – chocolate bars, granolas, chocolate drinks, cacao vinegar, chocolate spread, and more. Since my children are all chocolate lovers, I bought a lot of chocolate at the fair to take back to Manila to share.

Above: A World Chocolate Day pull up banner

During the event, I connected with old and new friends from the sector. I met with married couple and owners of ROSARIO’s, Emmanuel and Mary. I also met with the couple’s children, Gabriel and Mary, who managed the booth during the event. Gabriel and Mary told me that they enjoy supporting their parents in their business, which will someday be their own. Just like their parents, these children see that there is a bright future in the chocolate business, and they want to help grow the business and make it more successful.

I also met Ms. Wit, the owner of Wits Sweets and Savouries. She mentioned that before the pandemic, they used to receive funding from the local government, and they brought these chocolate processors to Manila to participate in trade fairs. Now that the pandemic is almost over, their group wanted to run more cacao and chocolate trade fairs and promotions, but they needed support to host more future events.

Above: (From left to right) Ms. Lizabel, the owner of Wits Sweets and Savouries with MEDA staff members, Jing Panganiban and Catherine Sobrevega

During a recent World Chocolate Day event, Ms. Wit told me that because of the long-standing relationship between Abreeza Mall and the cacao sector, the space was provided for free. She was happy with the turn out from the event and the cooperation of all the participants.

With the success of the event, the council is now in discussion with Abreeza Mall management to be included in “Alagang Ayala”, a social enterprise program where the cacao SMEs will be provided with free space to support the circular economy.

“We can’t do it without our cacao farmers and processors and everyone like you and MEDA who opened up infinite possibilities to support the cacao sector,” Ms. Wit remarked.

Even though almost a year has passed since RIISA launched, it’s been an exciting journey. When I reflect on my experience from this project and World Chocolate Day, I think of MEDA’s vision: “We believe that all people deserve the opportunity to earn a livelihood and that unleashing entrepreneurship is a powerful way to alleviate poverty.” I am confident that MEDA’s RIISA project is in the right place and time and I am excited to continue supporting small scale cacao farmers in the future.

To learn more about the RIISA project, visit our project page. Also, read more interesting content by checking out MEDA’s Storehouse.

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