MANILA—The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Wednesday announced its winners for the prestigious Young Champions of the Earth Prize.
Of the 7 young entrepreneurs, 20-year-old Filipino chef Louise Mabulo was recognized as the winner for the Asia and the Pacific region.
UNEP cited Mabulo for taking action to address climate change through her “Cacao Project.”
“Mabulo’s solution, the Cacao Project, has trained over 200 farmers in agroforestry techniques, planting more than 70,000 trees across 70 hectares of land,” UNEP said in a statement.
Mabulo will receive the prize in New York, days after the global climate strike and the UN climate summits.
Mabulo, who first gained popularity as a young chef when she became a finalist of ABS-CBN’s Junior MasterChef cooking competition, said she started the project after Typhoon Nina (international name Nock Ten) devastated her home province of Bicol in 2016.
“It started out as a typhoon relief project,” she said, adding that she bought cacao seedlings from her own savings and some donations.
While she was focused on her career as a chef, she started going into farming and agriculture as part of her interest in sustainable food value chains.
It was then that she realized how unsustainable it was for farmers in Bicol to continue planting crops that were not climate-resilient.
After the 2016 typhoon, many rice fields in her hometown of San Fernando were left flooded. A large number of coconut trees were destroyed because of the strong winds.
“We realized we can’t just weather through the yearly typhoon,” Mabulo told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview. “Coconut trees would take another 5 years (to mature). We had to think of something more resilient and something more profitable for the farmers and with demand for the market.”
Mabulo discovered that the cacao tree was just the right height to withstand strong winds. “Our soil is also perfect for growing cacao trees. It’s sustainable,” she said.
Since it takes a cacao tree around 3 years to mature, the project also provides short-term crops for the farmers so they can earn a living while waiting to harvest cacao.
By winning the Young Champions of the Earth Prize, Mabulo will be receiving $15,000 (P783,900) for her “Cacao Project.” She plans to use the money to set up a training and processing center. She will also be receiving mentoring and communications support.
She is hoping that once harvested, the farmers can learn how to process the cacao to make chocolates.
UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said “building resilience in a climate changing world is critical to helping communities weather the challenges of extreme weather events. And in doing so, we can create jobs, build more livable cities, and improve the well-being of the world’s most vulnerable, making sure no one is left behind.”
Mabulo said she has been receiving a lot of inquiries from companies interested in purchasing their upcoming harvest.
“It’s a way to make sure that companies are sourcing their chocolate sustainably,” she said, adding that they will make sure that the pricing is fair to the farmers.
Mabulo said her dream is to make cacao farming an “art form” that will be as attractive as wine and vineyards.
As for the winning the UN prize, she said, “Getting this kind of award and attention for a project is absolutely amazing. It’s not just for me but for the farmers and for bringing the Philippine industry in the spotlight.”
Mabulo and the 6 other winners bested over 1,000 applicants under the age of 30. They were chosen for their creative, innovative and impactful initiatives addressing climate change.
Before receiving her award, Mabulo will be attending and giving talks at the UN Youth Climate Summit and other climate-related events in New York. (K. Sabillo, abs-cbn news)