Twenty five overseas Filipino workers transitioned from being Middle East workers to cacao and chocolate entrepreneurs. In a small livelihood project by Neil Santillan (also known as Abdul Karim for his Muslim name), Muslims and Christians came together to fund a P5 million initial capital so they can venture into cacao farming in Davao City. Each member of the crowdsourced project contributed at least P135,000, or more depending on their capacity.
The crowdfunded company is slowly getting recognized for its halal dark chocolates. Last December 17, their cacao tablet won the award as Philippines' Best Cacao Tablet in 2017, at the Asia Halal Brand Awards held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Santillan registered the company MS3 Agri-ventures with the Department of Trade and Industry, and converted it into a corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. From being a TV producer and graphic artist in Qatar, Santillan is now focusing on the five-hectare farm in Sitio San Isidro, Bunawan, Davao City.
He also attended trainings from the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao (CIDAMI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) about cacao--from planting, having the best planting materials, harvesting, and other good farming practices.
Santillan said that manufacturing halal products is difficult if one is not sure of the manufacturing company. With the initial funds raised, he put up a small factory to manufacture a small volume of halal chocolate. He also trained and practice halal processes from soil preparation to making the end products.
Aside from halal dark chocolates and cacao tablets, MS3's products also include powdered tea, vinegar and banana chocolate.
The startup company processes only 6,000 kilograms of fermented beans to make 108,000 50g bars of chocolate. Each bar sells at P65.
To market their products, MS3 looks into international exhibitions like the one held in Qatar. The company recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Malaysian firm and Poland to get access to international exhibitions.
Armed with superior-quality products backed by good reviews, MS3 hopes to close more deals with interested buyers. Santillan is also awaiting the completion of legalities to make MS3 an exporter, as well as laboratory testing on their products.
The company is assisted by the Department of Agriculture (DA) 11 in their marketing efforts.