Family’s organic farm learns to expand business to Europe

Kablon Farms
Workers make tablea (cacao liqueur) from the harvests at Kablon Farms in Barangay Tupi, South Cotabato. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

When Leonor Pantua, co-owner of a family business in Tupi, South Cotabato, gives cautionary advice to aspiring exporters, she is not trying to discourage them from pursuing their dream. 

“You must know who your buyers are. You can get caught as everything comes at a cost,” she says. Her company, Kablon Farms, has gained export success by adapting its products to the needs of its customers, especially in the European Union. 

“I have always been entrepreneurial,” says Pantua, 58. She recalls selling fruits to her classmates at an early age and taking home fruit harvested from the farm during the weekend to sell in school. “Back then, the farm was a weekender, somewhere to spend time with family,” she says.

By the time she obtained a degree in agricultural business from the University of the Philippines, her two older brothers were already managing the family farm. 

In 1989, Pantua left for New Zealand and explored careers in tourism, nonprofits, commercial property trusts, and accountancy. Years later, she picked up her childhood pastime and set out to help her brothers transform Kablon into an organic farm. 

The 67-hectare farm that they inherited from their parents is planted with cacao and coconut, intercropped with tropical fruit trees like durian, mangosteen, guyabano and lanzones.

Today, with three centers in South Cotabato and a distribution warehouse in Davao, business is good. There are 35-40 full-time workers at Kablon, which also produces virgin coconut oil as well as fruit spreads, jams, jellies, and tropical fruit purées. 

A processing plant that the siblings put up in 2001 “helps minimize wastage and extends the shelf life of fruits,” Pantua says. 

Cacao beans

Kablon Farms began exporting marinated asparagus to Canada in the mid-1990s with support from the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). But dwindling supplies halted the enterprise five years later.

In 2017 when Kablon obtained organic certification, it gained a foothold in the EU through Pantua’s niece, Estela Duque of Moulinet Chocolat based in the United Kingdom, who “introduced the farm’s dried cacao beans to the artisan chocolatiers of Europe.” 

A 20-foot container van carrying some eight tons of dried and fermented cacao beans worth about P1 million reached a wholesale warehouse in Amsterdam. The warehouse sells fermented cacao to artisan chocolatiers such as KRAK Chocolade, which use raw material from Kablon in producing their award-winning chocolates. 

The farm alternates its exports between the EU and the United States because it harvests a limited volume of 10-15 tons of cacao. The EU market seems particularly attracted to Philippine cacao, according to Pantua. “Fermentation in Kablon Farms … was the trade secret, which gives our cacao beans their distinct flavor and aroma,” she says, adding that a buyer from Italy is now also keenly interested in directly importing from the farm. 

GSP Plus

Kablon Farms
Leonor Pantua

With about 90% of the farm’s revenue coming from domestic sales in supermarkets, retail shops in Mindanao and Manila, and online sales, Pantua saw an opportunity to expand the 10% export revenue and prepared to become a registered exporter. She attended the DTI-Export Marketing Bureau’s seminar on exporting agri-products to the EU and learned more about the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+). 

“I know about the REX (registered exporter) number and am applying to get one soon. Utilizing the GSP Plus will eventually help us quote a better price for EU buyers,” she says.

Under the REX system of certification, exporters themselves declare the origin of goods in statements, but they must be registered in a database kept by competent authorities. 

Gov’t support

Pantua regards the assistance of the Department of Agriculture (DA) as the catalyst of Kablon Farms’ entry into the EU organic market. 

She says the DA’s seminars on such subjects as sustainable agriculture technology transfer were “our primary source of knowledge for the production of organic fertilizers, from vermicomposting to other fertilizer sources like the agri-waste generated in the farm.” 

The DA also organizes conferences in the region that have helped build connections in the industry. In 2019, it sponsored Kablon Farms’ participation in the Salon du Chocolat Exhibition in Paris. Says Pantua: “We were able to introduce our products in real time and understand the growing demand and interest of the new bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate makers in quality cacao beans and their origin. It gave us the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and products with other Philippine-based chocolatiers. This helped cement our relationship with EU buyers.”

The DTI, for its part, “introduced us to trade fairs, seminars and exhibits that opened our market networks and inspired us to innovate and compete,” Pantua says. “It provided not only logistics but also financial assistance to enable us to present our products to appropriate markets and allowed us to benchmark our quality against some of the best producers in the country.”

In 2022, Kablon Farms managed to export its tropical spreads to Singapore through the DTI’s invitation to the International Food Exhibition. “It was then that I began to appreciate DTI’s network of expertise and assistance,” Pantua says.  


Kablon Farms had to learn to complete its export documentation in Manila and to deal with matters related to shipping perishable products, such as maintaining specific moisture content and arranging for proper containers and transportation, which impact on the cost of products and the final price.

When it was time to export organic cacao beans to the EU, Pantua sought guidance from the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. and her niece Estela Duque. “The biggest challenge for us was learning how to export to another country. We managed to muddle our way through export documentation, handling commercial invoices and shipment with the help of PhilExport,” she says.

The Arise Plus Philippines project also provided Pantua what she needed. “We have applied many learnings from our first Arise Plus coaching experience—from getting all product certifications/licenses completed to being familiar with what the destination country requires and matching both to suit the authorities,” she says.

Pantua has signed up for Arise Plus’ coaching on export management and market linkages and quality champion improvement support to help Kablon Farms comply with any new EU requirements, particularly in exporting virgin coconut oil.

The project is enabling Philippine exporters to take advantage of EU market access and the trade privileges granted under the GSP+. It supports the overall EU-Philippines trade relationship and trade-related policies.

Arise Plus Philippines is a project of the Philippine government with the DTI as lead partner, along with the DA, Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Customs, Department of Science and Technology, and the private sector. It is funded by the EU with the International Trade Centre as technical agency.

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