[B-SIDE Podcast] The sweet rewards of cacao farming in the Philippines

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To cap off 2023, the BBC released its 100 Women list, naming women who have inspired and influenced people worldwide.

Among those on the list are former US First Lady Michelle Obama and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, and a 25-year-old Filipina farmer and entrepreneur named Louise Mabulo.

Ms. Mabulo, the daughter of San Fernando Camarines Sur mayor Fermin Mabulo, joins 27 other Climate Pioneers in the list. She was lauded for her efforts in setting up The Cacao Project, which according to the BBC “aims to revolutionize local food systems through sustainable agroforestry.”

In this B-side interview, the 100 Women-lister extols the virtues of cacao as a crop, changing the face of farming in the Philippines, and how growing up Filipino can make one sensitive to climate change.

Cacao as Crop

After the devastation of Typhoon Nina (international name: Nock-Ten) in 2016, Ms. Mabulo thought that farmers in her Bicol hometown deserved more than seeing their crops destroyed and having to start all over again.

She set up The Cacao Project as a seed exchange program, which later evolved into a training program and social enterprise.

Ms. Mabulo said cacao was an ideal crop in the Philippines because aside from its high value as a crop due to global demand for chocolate, it is resilient to typhoons.

“It doesn’t get easily flooded, and it doesn’t get cut down by high winds, which is ideal for our landscapes,” she said.

Removing the stigma of farming

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the average daily pay for a farm worker in the Philippines in 2019 was P331.10 per day.

Apart from the low wages, the agricultural profession is not held in high esteem locally — with the exeception of wealthy landowners who own the farms. Ms. Mabulo is working to change the face of farming by presenting it as a viable career option.

“I’m trying to empower farmers to understand that what they’re doing is land stewardship. It’s not just farming and producing food, and creating harvests. It’s also rethinking what a farmer looks like,” she said. “That can be young people getting into agriculture and aspiring to be a farmer.”

Filipinos and climate sensitivity

All Filipinos have a storm story, and are thus affected by the increase in the strength and number of typhoons caused by climate change.

While she did grow up in Wales, their family’s move to Camarines Sur made her appreciate how knowledge of local climate and weather is learned from a very young age.

“What I like to say here in Bicol is all of us are raised as meteorologists and weathermen. We all know immediately what the tickers and signs are of typhoons and how to prepare for them,” said Ms. Mabulo.

Farmers have, therefore, learned how to live around the changes in weather.

“Resilience is incredibly important, and that we need to build resilience and adapt to the typhoons,” she said.

However, she said it is also important to have the resources to not just survive, but thrive despite challenges posed by climate and weather.

It shouldn’t just be left to farmers, says Ms. Mabulo.

“It also made me question the systems that kept us resilient. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to be resilient. All of these resources should be readily available to us,” she said.

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