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Dubai-based Filipino entrepreneurs Iman Suguitan and Luchie Suguitan recently visited Qatar to talk about the thriving cacao industry in the Philippines and their big dream of developing a global brand of chocolates made from cacao beans from their home country.
The siblings are also the founders of OFW Para sa Magsasaka (OPM), an initiative aimed at inspiring fellow overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to invest in farmers and cooperatives in Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines and also known as the Fruit Basket of the Southeast Asian country. The current crop in focus is cacao.
"Our aim is to help Filipino farmers by giving them opportunities through the farms we rent or operate and then buying their products that we intend to further develop. I am currently the farm manager of the operations we have in Agusan del Sur, while Luchie has decided to further her studies on chocolates. She is a graduate of Ecole Chocolat in the US," Iman told Qatar Tribune during a chocolate-tasting they hosted in Doha recently.
Iman, who is also the managing director and founder of Ahsant Premium Hotel Supplies, said it was their shared passion to give back to the community as OFWs and having a love for chocolates, they decided to invest in cacao farmers.
"I was on the look for other opportunities. We brainstormed on a new venture and we agreed to explore what we both love: chocolates. So we did some research and we saw the thriving cacao industry in the province of Davao. We went there and studied the industry including planting and we even learned about the challenges of local farmers. By learning the entire value chain of the industry, we know we can help more. We also want to make chocolates from cacao beans from our farms," Iman added.
During the chocolate-tasting attended by some Doha residents, the pair engaged with participants in blind tasting of six chocolates made from beans from different countries and cities including Vietnam, Madagascar, US and the Philippines (Davao and Agusan del Sur). Among the products that made an impression is the chocolate made from cacao grown on one of the OPM farms.
"In terms of world production, the Philippines only supplies 0.1 percent of cacao and out of that 90 percent of cacao is grown in the province of Davao. Despite being an agricultural country and being the perfect location to grow cacaos, we have a big deficiency. Philippine-grown cacao beans have a huge potential in the global market because of its distinct taste which needs to be promoted," Luchie said.
Luchie, though an HRM graduate, is currently in the investments industry. She added that while studying chocolate-making in the US, she realised even more how unpopular Philippine cacao products are. She said people there were more interested in cacao beans from countries like Venezuela, Peru and Madagascar.
"We want to bring better, healthier and tastier chocolates, which are affordable and we can do that because of our farm-to-bar concept at OPM. It gives us a lot of edge as opposed to another factory that has no idea how the cacao beans are planted and their roasting profile. Our goal is to make the Philippines the third Asian country to be a fine flavour cacao producer. Indonesia and Vietnam were placed first and second in Asia in producing fine flavour cacao last year. The cacao industry in Southeast Asia started in the Philippines," Luchie added.
With currently successful operations in Agusan del Sur through 15 OFW investors from across the globe, the siblings are determined to popularise the Philippine cacao farms and chocolates especially in this part of the globe where they are currently based.
They said that they are currently developing their products and framing an effective marketing strategy so their chocolates can also compete globally including in the Middle East. Qatar is one of the markets that they are very keen to explore, the entrepreneurs added.
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