The science and technology department in Mimaropa recently partnered with the Provincial Science and Technology Office-Palawan (PSTO-Palawan) to hold a three-day stakeholder consultation, which centered on cacao and coffee production.

The activity, according to the Department of Science and Technology regional office in a statement released Wednesday, is a prelude to the launch of the Innovation, Science, and Technology for Accelerating Regional Technology-Based Development (iSTART) program.

DOST’s flagship program, iSTART, aims to enhance regional growth by working with Local Government Units (LGUs) to develop technology-driven strategies in areas like agriculture, manufacturing, and service. This encompasses research and development, consultancy services, training, and mobilizing researchers, scientists, and engineers.

Historically, Palawan’s primary economic drivers have been agriculture and fisheries. With a goal to diversify and augment its economy, the province ventured into cacao and coffee cultivation.

This not only led to the production of chocolate and coffee but also opened doors for increased trade opportunities.

Despite the promise, the cacao industry faced setbacks, especially during the pandemic. Local cacao cultivators grappled with multiple challenges, from lack of fertilizers and disease prevention training to outdated processing technologies and marketing hurdles.

Engr. Nemesto Evangelista, a cacao farmer from Brooke’s Point, expressed his concerns, stating, fellow farmers humorously label them as “cacao crazies.” This is because, even with persistent hard work, the returns are minimal.

“Kaming mga farmers sa Brooke’s Point, ang [pang] asar sa amin ay ‘cacao crazies’ kasi para daw kaming sira ulo na tanim ng tanim wala namang kinikita. Madaming kulang sa aming pagtatanim, mga farm inputs gaya ng fertilizers, new technologies for harvesting and post-harvesting, pagbebenta ng mga finished products at iba pa,” he said.

In response, DOST-MIMAROPA, through PSTO-Palawan, has initiated an extensive data collection phase on cacao and coffee production practices. With iSTART, the department aims to work closely with local governments to fortify the cacao and coffee sectors using advanced R&D methods and expert deployments.

Furthermore, DOST-MIMAROPA will join hands with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to explore innovative product ideas, such as infusing new fruit flavors into chocolates.

Collaborative efforts with the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and organizations like the Palawan Cacao Council are also in the pipeline. These include infrastructure development, skill training, and policy creation to enhance the cacao market.

Industry experts from KoKoMo Chocolate and Brewsco Coffee Roasters shared invaluable insights during the consultation. They advised on product refinement and expressed interest in partnering with local cacao producers.

“Kami ay nabuhayan ng loob na may pag-asa pa na makabangon ang industriya ng cacao at coffee sa Palawan. Lubos kaming nasiyahan sa inyong pagbisita at sa mga plano na inyong gagawin para po sa mga cacao and coffee farmers,” said Engr. Evangelista on this.

With these collaborative strategies, DOST-MIMAROPA aspires to rejuvenate the cacao and coffee sectors in Palawan.

The event witnessed participation from various stakeholders, including DTI-Palawan, Palawan Cacao Council, local agriculture offices, farmer cooperatives, and private individuals.