November 22, 2021
A 100-strong cacao farmers association in Zamboanga City has started supplying dried cacao beans to Hershey chocolate-associated Kennemer Foods International while being able to contribute to sustainability of the watershed Pasonanca Natural Park.
The Tolosa Buffer Zone Association (TBZA) and the Salaan Buffer Zone Association (SBZA), with around 50 farmer-member each, have successfully cultivated an estimated 8.2 hectares of cacao land in Zamboanga City.
Another market for their cacao beans is the and JAS Agri-ventures Inc.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) just conducted in August a five-day training for farmers in Tolosa on cacao farming,
With an initial 10 to 20 sacks of dried cacao beans supplied to Kennemer Foods per month, this volume is expected to increase next year.
“By the middle of next year (2022), we will have been ready to harvest from more cacao areas that we helped rehabilitate,” said Dr. Reynaldo C. Navacilla, field manager of Protect Wildlife.
Protect Wildlife, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is a consortium of agencies helping the watershed natives to learn agriculture and agro-forestry in exchange for destructive wildlife practices.
DENR’s training on cacao farming was conducted with USAID’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP).
Kasanyangan Center for Rural Development & Microfinancing Inc (KCRDMFI) has supplied UF18 and W10 varieties of cacao seedlings to the communities. KCRDMFI also supplied them the fertilizers..
The TBZA and SBZA have also been producing their home-made tableas sold at P120 per pack, producing around 50 packs per month.
The cacao farms of TBZA and SBZA have helped forest communities within the Pasonanca Natural Park to sustain a livelihood for themselves.
“Some of them used to poach wildlife in the area. Some of them used to get firewood in the forests in order to produce charcoal sold to bakeries downtown. With a livelihood now, majority of them no longer do these destructive practices,” said Navacilla.
As to their agforestry and intercropping practices, the farmers are able to help conserve soil, reduce soil erosion, and stabilize slopes in the mountains. Intercropped with cacao are coffee and vegetables.
Inday Campaner, protected area superintendent at Pasonanca Natural Park, said DENR’s vision is for the Pasonanca Natural Park to become recognized as an ASEAN Heritage Park.
ASEAN Heritage Parks are selected based on their “unique biodiversity and ecosystems, wilderness and outstanding values in scenic, cultural, educational, research, recreational and tourism.” As such, they become significant sites for conservation.
Strengthening the conservation program in Pasonanca is important even as new flora and fauna species are being discovered in the protected area. Among these are the mistletoe and amorphophollus, according to Dr. Dante Oporto, former PENRO (provincial environment and natural resources officer) of Zamboanga Sibugay.
Partnering with USAID in the effort to help the communities and conserve the environment are Conservation International, DAI Global LLC, Orient Integrated Development Consultants Inc., Conservation International, Rare, and Tanggol Kalikasan.
However, Lorna Guerrero, president of TBZA, said the farmers’ group needs support in maintenance of the cacao trees to make them bear fruit. They need fertilizers, pesticides, and perhaps sustained technical assistance for best agronomic practices in cacao farming.
Nevertheless, numerous organizations continue to aid the farmers. USAID provided the coffee grinder to them. USAID gave each farmer a set of three tools (including knives and pruning tools) for maintaining their farms.
The Pasonanca Natural Park is an important watershed that contains the headwaters of the Tumaga River in southern Zamboanga Cordillera Mountain. It is the source of water for nearly one million residents in Zamboanga City.
It covers an area of 10,560 hectares of forest reserve and is the largest remaining old growth dipterocarp forest in Zamboanga.
As part of its conservation, DENR’s Protect Wildlife project with USAID has also introduced financing measures for its protected area management. This is to help fund the P30 million annual cost for watershed and environmental management by the Zamboanga City local government unit (LGU).
The LGU hires around 120 forest guards in the protected area.
Moreover, the project’s livelihood program ensures that the communities in the buffer zone become protectors of the watershed especially during critical times as the Covid 19 pandemic.
“DENR distributed 5,400 ready-to-plant vegetable and fruit tree seedlings and 1,500 Acacia mangium seedlings to Tolosa and Salaan people’s organizations in the park’s buffer zone as part of the government’s livelihood assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic,” reported the USAID.
The Zamboanga City LGU also allocated P1 million yearly for the conservation of the park, being known as habitat of Philippine eagle and the Zamboanga bulbul, flagship species of the park.
Since the Pasonanca Natural Park is an ecotourism—trekking and adventure – site, the Protect Wildlife Project installed monuments and markers on strict protection and multiple use zones.
“Park signage was installed to remind nearby communities of prohibited activities in the strict protection zone and to promote agroforestry in buffer zones. Signage was installed along marked boundaries, where the threat of encroachment is high.”
The Protect Wildlife project also supported the Zamboanga City Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Task Force (ZCAWTTF). It helps in the enforcement of environmental laws in Zamboanga City.
Pasonanca Natural Park is home to a reported 96 highly threatened species. These include the Philippine Eagle and Zamboanga bulbul Mindanao bleeding-heart, Philippine kingfisher, Philippine leafbird and little slaty flycatcher. It is said to be home too to the Mindanao broadbill, azure-breasted pitta, celestial monarch, southern silvery kingfisher, blue-capped kingfisher, spotted imperial pigeon, giant scops owl, Japanese night heron, Chinese egret, rufous-lored kingfisher, Philippine dwarf kingfisher and Philippine cockatoo. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)