“Some people, believe it or not, still don’t know the Philippines grows coffee,” says Pacita “Chit” Juan, president and co-chair of the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI) during a recent press conference promoting the organization’s yearly affair called Coffee Origins.
In fact, she adds, we have plantations in, among other places, Cavite, Bukidnon, Benguet, Iloilo, Davao, Cordillera, Sagada, and Batangas.
That glaring ignorance is something the non-stock, non-profit organization (gathering coffee stakeholders such as farmers, roasters, millers, and coffee shop owners) seeks to rectify.
Even as the metropolis girds for the popular beer party that is Oktoberfest, PCBI is observing the 16th “Coffee Month”—declared so by virtue of an order from the salad days of President Fidel Ramos back in 1997. It’s tempting to conclude that “El Tabako” must surely love “el barako,” our potent Liberica varietal.
No surprise, as Filipinos are such coffee lovers, after all. Juan reveals that nine of 10 Filipinos drink coffee, and happily reports that all sorts of coffee shops have been mushrooming in all corners of the country.
On its tenth year, PCBI continues to drumbeat the cause for a wider appreciation for Philippine coffee through Coffee Origins 2012.
Aside from an investor-centered Coffee Summit, seminars for coffee lovers and those mulling on putting up a coffee shop, free-flowing brews of all kinds (yes, even the famous but rare Kape Musang or civet coffee) should sate those eager for the stimulating beverage.
Coffee experts are on hand to (pardon the pun) perk up discussions and hopefully improve the coffee production in these parts. One of the valuable resource speakers in town is Dr. Dave D’haeze, a Belgian soil and water management expert from EDE Consulting.
Based in Vietnam for the last 14 years, D’haeze witnessed, and has been a part of the effort that has upped the country’s coffee bean yield to as much as 5,000 kilos per hectare. Compare that to our woeful figure of 700 kilos per hectare. The Vietnamese experience with coffee has been very encouraging that, from an initial 2,000 hectares of coffee plantations, Vietnam presently earmarks an astounding 500,000 hectares – good for second place in production in the world.
“In the Philippines, you have a situation were you are producing 25,000 tons of green bean equivalent (GBE) – for us is the amount of coffee produced in a little village in Vietnam,” he underscores. This is a crucial statistic because Philippine domestic consumption stands at 100,000 tons, which means we have quite a gap to fill.
Dr. D’haeze adds that with world prices of coffee at high levels, we have to pay a lot to address the shortage. Coffee production thus presents itself as a golden opportunity for the Philippines—provided we can increase yield and maximize profit.
The scientist reveals that big industry players are actively looking beyond Vietnam to assure supply, particularly since climate change is predicted to make Vietnam drier. “We need to work with small producers to build capacity, if possible (with a yield) more than 5,000 per hectare,” he says.
Chit Juan reveals that the domestic demand for coffee has been on a steady rise per year with instant coffee growing by 20 to 25 percent, while “roast and ground” requirements rising by five to six percent.
Still, there is much work to be done if we want in on the action, but Dr. D’haeze points us in the right direction. After inspecting a Cavite plantation, he reckoned that the trees range from 25 to 50 years old. “It looked to me like an abandoned plantation, when it is in fact operational – and that shocked me a little bit,” he says to InterAksyon.com. “We humans can’t run very fast when we’re over 60. Trees are the same. My recommendation is to restart, replant.”
However, bank financing needs to come in to cover the income gap while the trees mature. Dr. D’haeze expects our trees to yield coffee cherries in three to four years. Farmers will therefore not dare replace their trees without income protection.
There are “remedial measures,” too, as he terms it, even as the scientist compares the Philippine experience to Uganda. “It’s just a matter of good agricultural techniques such as pruning and (using) fertilizer… feed the tree with a balanced diet.”
Juan, on the other hand, rues the shrinking acreage of coffee plantations, particularly in Cavite. “The problem is we’re giving in to development,” she laments. “Cavite used to have 12,000 hectares (of coffee plantations). This year 7,000 it’s hectares… Farmers are selling their land because of its proximity to the city. If you’re the farmer, you’d rather sell your land than plant coffee, too.”
The solution, she posits, is to look for areas in satellite areas. Indeed, much promise is being seen in Negros, Panay, Iloilo, Cotabato, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Basilan Tawi-tawi Zamboanga, Mindoro, Romblon, Marinduque, and Palawan. Bo’s Coffee is partnering with PCBI for the Buenavista Project that will provide some 20,000 Arabica seedlings in 15 hectares of Negros land. In a couple of years, Bo’s will buy the coffee at “very good rates,” shares PCBI director Manny Torejon.
So you see, there are lots of reasons to be bullish on Philippine brew. Besides, take it from Dr. Dave D’haeze: ”Any coffee I have tasted here is much better than what I have tasted in Vietnam, and you can quote me on that.”
Now, doesn’t that just perk you up?
• Coffee Origins 2012 runs until October 14 at the Gallery of Greenbelt 5 in Makati City. Main sponsors include Ayala Malls, Alaska KremTop, Alaska Fresh Milk, Bo’s Coffee, URC Universal Robina, Equal, Aquabest Purified Water, and the Cavite Coffee Development Board. Government support is provided through the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. For more information, visit www.philcoffeeboard.com, the Facebook pages of the Philippine Coffee Board and Kape Isla. Follow philcoffeeboard on Twitter.