Malagos, Baguio District, Davao City, Philippines
This is the final week of our newsletter series “HCP in Action: Working Through the Pandemic with our Designees”, over the past couple of months, we have heard from a number of HCP Designee sites on how the Covid-19 Pandemic has affected their fine flavor Heirloom cacao farming operations around the world. It has been inspiring to hear the stories of perseverance, overcoming challenges, and new inspirations that have resulted from these trying times.
By purchasing incredible, unique, flavorful chocolate, you can support these farmers and farmer networks. You can find a list of retailers of Heirloom designated chocolate on the HCP website, Buy Heirloom Chocolate page, and support the HCP in continuing to discover new unique, complex, flavorful chocolate to experience, by donating today!
This week we are hearing from Rex Puentespina, Farmer and Chocolate Maker, Malagos Chocolate – owner of Puentespina Farms, HCP Designee #16 .
The Puentespina’s venture into cacao growing started in 2003 when founders, Roberto and Charita Puentespina, leased a cacao farm in Malagos, Baguio District, Davao City. A farmer at heart, Charita Puentespina rehabilitated the trees and soon after harvested the cacao pods. She now operates a 24-hectare cacao farm in Malagos and employs in-house farmers (These are farmers whose passion is farming but unfortunately do not have their own lands to till). She also partnered with around 100 neighbor farmers in the area to help promote sustainability in the community.
The Puentespina’s also built a training facility on the farm to teach farmers good cacao growing practices. They provide farm inputs & run an Extension Service to those who need further assistance.
Rex took some time to reflect on how the pandemic is affecting Puentespina farms, its training programs and the Philippines as a whole.
Rex with his mother Charita at the Puentespina Farm in Davao City, Philippines.
Q: How has the Pandemic affected your farm operations and programs?
A: Business has slowed down, but despite the ongoing pandemic the farm still continues to operate. In the coming months, we plan to develop new products for the mass market in order to respond to the decreased interest in luxury food. This will help us avoid difficult choices such as reducing our labor force.
Q: How has the Pandemic impacted the livelihood and Economy in your area?
A: With or without the pandemic, our daily operation continues on our farms albeit following strict social distancing guidelines. We actually started harvesting cacao last month.
Currently, it is the beginning of the low-peak season and we expect it to last another 2 months. The next harvest will be in November up until January 2021, which we call the high-peak season, meaning there is more harvest than what we are able to achieve now. Regardless of the difficulties we are all experiencing, we continue to strive to make our farm productive and continue to implement Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).
Across our different revenue generators at Malagos, farm tourism is definitely the hardest hit. Before the pandemic, our Tree-to-Bar tours were able to give guests first-hand experience of our processes. Tourism accounted for a substantial portion of our business. With that said, it will take a while for this to get back to normal since there are currently no domestic flights.
Q: What new challenges has the pandemic caused your operations?
A: The biggest challenge for us is logistics. At the height of ECQ (Enhance Community Quarantine), we couldn’t move our products from our base in Davao to our different domestic and international partners because there were simply not enough flights that could accommodate our deliveries.
Q: What is the current status of your operation today?
A: The farm is still operating and our chocolate factory will be 50% operational. The usual pod rot and pod borer infestation remains a challenge.
Q: Are you developing new opportunities to adapt to these new challenges?
A: E-commerce is a great way to remedy the reduced amount of sales from our traditional brick-and-mortar retail partners. Before the pandemic, the Malagos team had already capitalized on building a strong website and online store. We plan to boost this further and expand our reach. We also plan to develop products for the mass market to help mitigate what could be the effects of decreased global demand. Some may have apprehensions with this new addition to our product line, but even with mass-market items people can still expect Malagos Chocolate to produce high-quality chocolates that remain faithful to our standards.
I believe that our brand equity and the reputation of Malagos Chocolate that we’ve built through the years, from our markets overseas to the farmers in our locale, will see us through in these difficult times. People can expect us to still deliver high-quality products and to always adhere to fair practices while producing one of the best chocolates in the world, even in times of crisis.
How can you help support Heirloom Designees around the world during these uncertain times? Click the following link to our Buy Heirloom Chocolate page on our website, where you can find a list of retailers selling chocolate made from Heirloom designated cacao beans. With your purchase, you will enjoy extraordinary chocolate and support our Heirloom farmers.