Bohol’s ‘chocolate princess’ won’t give up on Pinoy cacao
TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, Philippines — Dalareich Polot was introduced to Filipino chocolate as a child growing up in Bohol.
Growing up in a poor family, she learned the value of honest living and perseverance early as she helped her mother make and sell the often underrated “tableya” (hot chocolate), which is sourced from cacao trees grown by generations of families on the island province of Bohol.
Now, at 34, Polot’s hard work and her love for chocolate have been recognized on the international stage as she led the rehabilitation of Bohol’s cacao industry and helped empower rural women farmers.
Polot received the Goldman Sachs and Fortune Global Women Leaders Award during the 15th Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in California, United States last week. She is the first Filipina to get this honor.
This year’s summit, with the theme “Realizing Your Power,” gathered women in business, along with select leaders in government, philanthropy, education, sports and the arts, for wide-ranging conversations that inspire and deliver practical advice. Among the leaders who attended the summit were American philanthropist and former computer scientist Melinda Gates, US Representatives Liz Cheney and Katie Porter, California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and some leaders and chief executive officers of top companies in the world.
In her speech before at least 1,000 guests at the Ritz-Carlton on Oct. 11, Polot said that the award came at the right time when she and other women farmers were working to rehabilitate cacao farms that had been devastated by Super Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) that ravaged the Visayas in Dec. 2021.
The super typhoon came four years after Polot started a project where people could adopt and preserve old and heirloom cacao trees planted by past generation family members.
It was starting to provide additional income to these families when Odette struck on Dec. 16, 2021, and destroyed the cacao plants, affecting more than 100 families in Bohol.
Polot said she and her friends spent the next nine months doing relief and rehabilitation efforts that were still ongoing. She said she had proposed to farmers’ associations and cooperatives in three Bohol towns a livelihood recovery project through cacao rehabilitation and production for their rural women farming communities.
The plan, she added, was to duplicate these projects in other towns once these take off.
“The women farmers didn’t give up despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges, so I didn’t give up on them too,” Polot said.
“We will be on our feet again. This time, more empowered and resilient to face future uncertainties because of people like you who are so willing and relentless to offer a helping hand,” she added.
Never give up
Indeed, Polot has always been the type not to give up.
She grew up in a poor family at Barangay Booy in Tagbilaran City, the provincial capital.
Her mother Elsa used to be a street sweeper while her father Ricardo was then a tricycle driver.
To augment the family income, Elsa made and sell tableya, a traditional Filipino hot chocolate beverage made from 100 percent pure, roasted cacao beans that are pressed into coin-shaped tablets, and chocolates. It was a skill Elsa learned from her mother, Tomasa, who also sold tableya in the neighborhood.
Polot remembered she would help her mother make and sell these tableya, which helped send her and her four siblings — Irene, Renel, Jessa, and Angelah — to school.
“I saw the hard work of my parents to give the five of us a good life and to send us all to college. I told myself that one day, I can also help them and help other women by giving them opportunities,” Polot said.
And she did exactly that and more.
Polot helped her parents innovate their products and market it to local traders.
She noticed that some of the buyers were not too keen on tableya because they found these too common. But she didn’t give up and began marketing her products to stores in Bohol and nearby Cebu island.
The opportunity came in 2011 when she was selected as one of the scholars of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women in 2011 at the University of Asia and the Pacific together with IESE Business School in Europe.
The program changed her life. She didn’t only learn about business but was also inspired and empowered by the women she had dealt with in school.
When she returned to Bohol, she shared what she learned with her mother and started looking for opportunities to empower other women in her community, especially those like her mother who didn’t finish school.
She also started working in cacao farming communities in Bohol.
Her mission is not just to help the local cacao farmers, but to educate the Filipino market on the importance and appreciation of the cacao tree.
In 2013, she won the Young Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp, sponsored by the United States Embassy in Manila and Spark! Philippines and used the cash prize to expand the family business.
The next year, she went to Europe to study food engineering in chocolate processing at Ghent University in Belgium. When she returned to the country, Polot launched her own chocolate line that she branded “Ginto Chocolates,” an innovation from her mother’s tableya.
In Sept. 2017, Polot opened the Dalareich Chocolate House, the first chocolate factory in Bohol which employs housewives and part-time students to produce more chocolates.
The factory is also an educational site where visitors and tourists will learn about cacao and tableya.
In 2019, the family’s Dalareich 100% Unsweetened Chocolate received the gold award from the Academy of Chocolate in London.
Polot, got her cacao beans from small farmers in the Bohol towns of Calape, Carmen, Pilar, Sierra Bullones, and Jagna.
Cacao seeds are sold at P35 a kilo for wet beans in the local market, but Polot buys these from farmers at a higher price of P120 to P160 for dried and fermented beans so she could help them earn more.
Cacao seeds turn into cocoa powder to make tableya.
But since Bohol farmers could not meet her demand of 63,700 kilos a month, Polot had to tap growers in Davao, another chocolate-growing region.
Her efforts to uplift the cacao industry and the farmers in the province earned her the moniker “chocolate princess” of Bohol.
But the pandemic struck in 2020 and halted all economic activities in Bohol following the health and mobility restrictions imposed by the government to stop the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19. Just as medical protocols and quarantine rules were starting to ease toward the end of 2021, a supertyphoon struck the Visayas and wiped out cacao trees in Bohol.
“The past two years have been challenging for everyone around the world. Many of us felt confused, sad, disappointed, and lost, but God always sends us a message to continue to hope and pray even with all the challenges in our way,” Polot said.
When Polot received the email that she had been selected as one of the Goldman Sachs and Fortune Global Women Leaders awardees, she burst into tears because she finally received a piece of good news after more than two years.
She took it as a sign that good things were about to start again.
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