Brewing enough coffee for the Filipino cup







Brewing enough coffee for the Filipino cup

BAGUIO CITY – For the past decade, Filipino farmers struggled to supply at least a tenth of the nation’s annual demand for coffee, the world’s second most traded commodity.

Coffee Industry Cluster National Coordinator Myrna Pablo last week said the country produced 28.5 million kilos of coffee in the latest marketing year, citing a December 2017 report of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

However, the production is just 6.8 percent of the 417M kilos of coffee consumed in the same year, said Pablo, also the Regional Director of the Department of Trade and Industry—Cordillera.

Pablo presented the data during the Philippine Coffee Conference, held here for the third time last March 20 and 21.

“There is a steady increase in coffee consumers for more than a decade but the production trend remained flat,” she said.

This thirst for coffee made the country the fifth top consumer of coffee in the world according to the same report. The European Union topped the list for consuming 2.688B kilos followed by the United States (1.557B kgs), Brazil (1.239B kgs), and Japan (505M kgs).

The deficient 388.5M kilos were imported from neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

This also made Philippines the world’s top importer of soluble or instant coffee (360M kgs), and the fourth total largest coffee importer (soluble and green coffee beans).

In terms of production, Brazil tops the chart with 3.126B kilos followed by Vietnam (1.794 billion kgs), Colombia (876M kgs), Indonesia (654M kgs), and Honduras (392.7M kgs).

USDA estimates total world coffee production at 9.593B kilos.

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, who graced the event, said the country was a leading coffee exporter in the 1880s before “coffee rust” and diseases decimated production.

By the turn of the century, the explosive growth of coffee consumption forced the government to revitalize the sector, Lopez said.

Policy makers and stakeholders started drafting the Philippine Coffee Industry Roadmap in 2012 and was approved on March 2017. The country should be fully sufficient by 2021 according to the roadmap.

Lopez revealed that the top producing regions are all in Mindanao. Region 12 (Soccsksargen) is the country’s top coffee producer followed by Region 11 (Davao), Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Region 10 (Northern Mindanao).

All four coffee varieties – Arabica, Excelsa, Liberica, and Robusta – are grown in the country.

“The local government units reported progress since the roadmap was rolled out last year. It may be slow but we are gaining good momentum,” Pablo said.

Aging trees, aging farmers

In Cordillera, the snail-paced trend of coffee production is due to aging trees and shift of farmers to cash crops like corn according to Dept. of Agriculture – Regional Technical Director Danilo Daguio.

Daguio said coffee trees yield lesser as they age causing many farmers simply abandon them or cut them without replanting new scion as it would take years before a tree bears fruit.

For instance, the Arabica variety, prized for its rich aroma, takes at least six years to reach full production capacity.

The situation in Cordillera is generally the same in other regions according to Pablo.

With climate change and the ASEAN integration, she added many farmers still have to undergo trainings to equip them with better technologies and know-how for them to produce top quality beans.

Many coffee beans produced by traditional farmers often end up for personal consumption and do not reach higher markets because they do not meet premium standards, she said.

“There is a big, hungry market awaiting coffee farmers. They need to cope up fast,” Pablo remarked.

Re-brewing the coffee mind

Lopez said the lack of production can only be addressed by “changing the mindset” of the farmers first so that structural policy reforms and program implementation can succeed.

“It must come from the farmers to want to produce coffee,” he said.

Lopez said coffee farmers need to look past being just producers and think entrepreneurial.

They need to master concepts such as packaging, right market and timing, as well as financial literacy from industry experts, he said.

Agriculture and food committee chair Senator Cynthia Villar, in her keynote speech during the conference, also held the same view.

“Increasing farm productivity alone cannot move them permanently from poverty,” Villar said.

She said farmers need to learn capacity building strategies and approaches to develop their farms as agribusinesses to have secured additional source of income.

By converting farms into tourism destinations with restaurant and homestay facilities, and as agriculture training centers, coffee growers not need to rely heavily on production alone, she said.

To help build these enterprises, Lopez said farmers can avail of the Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso, a government funding program aimed to provide low-cost and less bureaucratic financing. He said P1B has been allotted this 2018.

Coffee under coconut and pine

Agriculture Undersecretary Evelyn Lavinia for High Value Crops said farmers could also opt intercropping to maximize yields, especially for small farms which do not exclusively grow coffee.

Lavinia said coffee intercropping with coconut and provision of high quality seedlings under the Kaanib Enterprise Development Program of the Philippine Coconut Authority is a “perfect move” for expanding production areas.

She added the Dept. of Agriculture allotted P154.59 million this 2018 for coffee programs, among which is the revitalization of old trees.

It would also fund production of good quality planting materials, training for farmers, research and development, and provision of processing and post processing equipment and facilities.

Villar said the coconut industry development fund, passed by the senate on Monday, can also be used for intercropping of coffee and coconut.

There are 2M hectares of coconut farms ideal for coffee and cacao intercropping, she added.

Villar said this can increase the income of 3.5M coconut farmers who earn roughly P1,500 a month and could bring poverty in the rural areas from 34 percent to 19.

As a result of a recent meeting, Villar said the Philippine Coconut Authority will be identifying the provinces which will cater to cacao and coffee intercropping while the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources will pursue the two trees as primary materials for its National Greening Program.

For non-coconut growing areas like the Cordillera, coffee can be intercropped with pine trees and identified forest trees, said Pablo.

Philippine Coffee Council Luzon Island Representative Oliver Oliem said intercropping among pine trees have already been done in areas of Benguet province and proved to be successful.

Also last week, Oliem’s Arabica coffee beans in Atok, Benguet earned the highest score in the Philippine Coffee Quality Competition with a score of 87.06, putting it under “specialty” category.

Three others from Benguet earned enough rating from a panel of international coffee cuppers to place them in the same category.

Oliem said the real challenge to revitalizing the coffee industry is communicating the needed information and training down to the grassroots farmers, who mostly cannot attend trainings due to lack of finances.

“On our own, we try to help as much as we can through associations or cooperatives but we can only do so much,” the coffee farmer said.

Change has come

Coffee farmers are now very willing to adapt to new technology and strategies knowing the effects of climate change and their aging population, said Philippine Coffee Council co-chairman Ruth Novales, also the Vice President for Corporate Affairs of Nestle Philippines.

But the government needs to converge its efforts to effectively support one value chain from planting seedlings to consumption, she said.

“We do not need a lot of program but it can be just few effective programs which can be replicated from Luzon to Mindanao,” Novales said.

Education on international coffee standards for farmers is also critical, according to Villar.

“We are in the midst of economic reintegration under the ASEAN economic community. Competition is more intense. Our regional neighbors are also leading coffee producers,” she reminded. *