Game Changer | Valente D. Turtur: Uplifting the living standards of cacao farmers

Valente D. Turtur, the man behind the success of cacao growing in Davao region.
Valente D. Turtur, the man behind the success of cacao growing in Davao region.

Valente D. Turtur never thought of becoming a cacao farmer. But since he was already conducting training on cacao growing, he decided to take the challenge.

“Two things prompted me into cacao farming. First, I was asked by one participant during a training which I conducted if I have my own cacao farm. Right there and then, I decided to go myself into cacao farming to avoid the embarrassment of being asked again.”

On the second reason, , the first chairperson of the National Cacao Council said: “I found the potential of cacao not just for production but also for postharvest processing which I am currently doing – the chocolate making.”

It was a decision he never regretted. “I used to grow vegetables in our backyard as a trial, but I found vegetables to be highly-perishable crops,” he said. “Thus, I shifted to cacao farming.”

Turtur believed in the saying that you cannot share with others what you don’t know. “Practice what you preach,” he explained. “Besides, I was one of the members of the pioneering cacao-based organization in Mindanao.”

He is referring to Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao (CIDAMI), a non-stock, non-profit organization whose members are cacao farmers, nursery operators, cooperatives, traders/exporters, processors, input providers and academe.

Turtur’s farms are located in Catalunan Grande and in Tamugan, Marilog, both in Davao City.

Turtur commenced growing cacao in his farm in 2014. “I started earning income after three years from planting,” he said. “Cacao trees will start to bear fruits in 18 months from planting but it’s only after three years that I started earning.”

Cacao is the main source of pods which can be transformed into chocolates.
During the first cropping season, he harvested an average of 300 grams of dried beans per tree. In the subsequent harvest, he harvested an average of 500 grams of dried beans per tree per year.

“Presently, I am harvesting an average of three kilograms per tree per year or 6 tons of dried beans per year for my 2,000 cacao trees,” he said. “My cacao trees bear fruits every now and then and I harvest every two weeks throughout the year.”

Although Turtur encourages other farmers to go into cacao farming, he said that to become successful they need to start first with proper training. “Unlike coconut or banana – where farmers can just plant them in their farm and return only when it’s time to harvest – cacao farming is very different,” he explained.

“In cacao farming, I always tell farmers to frequently visit the farm and check the cacao trees,” he said. “The cacao trees will not produce good fruits or pods if they are not well-managed. The old saying, ‘Pag may itinanim, may aanihin,’ does not apply well in cacao.

“In cacao, the saying should go this way: ‘Pag may itinanim, may ipu-pruning, bago may aanihin.’ Pruning is done frequently. It may be laborious, but it is a key to productivity,” he further said.

In the training he conducts, he always shares a Biblical reading about the parable which highlights pruning. It is written in John 15:2, which stated: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, for branches that have fruits, He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

As for those farmers who are already into cacao farming, he suggests that they go into diversification. “That has been our advocacy to farmers – to diversify,” Turtur stressed. “The market is so fragile and demanding; we do not know what it wants now and in the future.

“The advent of global warming and climate change could alter the behavior of pests which can affect the plants and their productivity. Basically, we advocate for a coconut/banana-cacao intercropping considering that Mindanao is practically coconut- and banana-based farms.

“The coconuts and bananas serve as the partial shades for cacao which during long dry spells the production of cacao will not be hampered,” Turtur went on to say. “For open areas without any coconuts, we encourage farmers to plant bananas – be it cardaba or lakatan prior to planting cacao.

“Or they can also plant vegetable crops like eggplant and okra during the early vegetative stage of cacao trees along with bananas. Once cacao trees are already productive, farmers can replace the vegetables with ginger, which can be planted in a sack under the cacao trees.”

As the cacao trees are already fully-grown in his farm, he raised free range chickens under the trees.

Right now, cacao farmers are also feeling the high cost of fertilizers. “There is a slight decrease in production in the Davao region, maybe because farmers do not apply fertilizer anymore due to its high cost,” he said.

It’s not only the high cost of fertilizers that greatly affected cacao production in the region. Pest infestation has also taken its toll, Turtur said, citing cocoa pod borer as the most prevalent in the region.

“This type of insect can affect cacao production by more than 50% if not properly addressed,” he warned. “The high cost of inputs such as pesticides prevent farmers from controlling the infestation of pests which affect farm productivity.”

Non-availability of water during the dry season is another problem cacao farmers are facing today. “Irrigation is necessary, especially during this time of global warming,” Turtur said. “Smallholder farmers cannot certainly afford to set up an irrigation system; it’s only the government that can.”

“When we started in the cacao industry as a development worker in 2011, our vision was to see a cacao farmer live a modest lifestyle,” he recalled. “In fairness, there are some cacao farmers who have somehow changed their lifestyle but there are still many farmers who are struggling to get a slice of the cacao gold.

“I realize that it is not really about the kind of crop you plant, but it is the kind of culture and behavior you apply in raising that crop,” he said. “Farmers who have the patience and discipline to take care of their crops will reap the fruits of their labor, but for farmers who still maintain the culture of farming and not agri-CULTURE will remain poor.”

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