The Philippines is seeking to boost production of dried cocoa beans under a 10-year plan designed to reduce its dependence on imports and target new export markets.
The country currently produces only 6,000 tons of dried cocoa beans each year but imports around 30,000 tons for domestic use.
The new roadmap for cocoa growers, presented by the Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines last week, has identified four areas where planting could be increased, allowing acreage to grow sixfold to 60,000 hectares in the next 10 years.
This would boost output of dried cocoa beans to 337,000 metric tons, the organization estimates.
Josephine Ramos, field operations manager of the foundation, told reporters that locally grown cocoa beans are exported mostly to the United States, forcing local processors to rely on imports, mostly from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Increasing domestic production of cocoa beans would not only lower imports but could also allow the Philippines to export its cocoa to markets like Japan, China, Singapore and Malaysia.
"The Philippines is known as a producer of good quality cocoa beans andexport markets are readily accessible," said Ramos.
Currently African countries account for about 80 per cent of the world cocoa export with Ivory Coast the dominant leader. But with rising incomes in markets like China, the industry is expecting stronger demand from chocolate and snack makers in Asian markets in coming years.
US-based organizations have already funded programmes in other Asia-Pacific markets such as Vietnam to boost Asia's output of this crop.
The new initiative in the Philippines will see industry and the department of agriculture set up programmes to help farmers with propagation of planting material,labour-efficient cropping systems, pest and disease control, harvesting, fermentation and drying, and marketing.
"We have the potential to increase production; we just need to help our farmers become more efficient producers," Ramos said.
She also told local media that US confectionery giant Masterfoods, the producer of Mars bars and M&M's "has been sending signals that it would want to seek the cooperation of local cacao farmers and traders to buy cacao beans for its global operations".
World cocoa trade is worth about $30 billion annually.