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Originally from Manila Bulletin’s Agriculture, Specials; article written by Ralph Lauren Abainza

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages globally, sought for its aroma and caffeine content. It is the most widely traded tropical product, and a growing market due to increasing consumption and stronger interest in specialty coffee innovations, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

To cap off their celebration of Coffee Month, The Philippine Coffee Board, Inc., in cooperation with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance Philippines, conducted a webinar entitled “Coffee Farming: We Believe, a testimonial from real coffee farmers who are making change” last October 29, 2022. The speakers in the webinar were all women, and Pacita “Chit” Juan, President and Co-Chair of Philippine Board, Inc. shared, “I don’t know if it’s by conscious choice or just the trend in the Philippines, but when we were getting farmers in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the names that came up were all women.”

In the thick forests of Mankayan, Benguet, Noemi Dado made use of her great-grandmother’s land to establish Agnep Heritage Farm and grow coffee in 2018. She shared her advocacy of sustainable coffee farming, which her family has thoroughly applied on their farm by growing coffee without cutting trees, producing their own organic fertilizers, and collaborating with indigenous farmers in the area. After four years, in 2020, they successfully harvested their first batch of arabica coffee beans.

Juliet Morales, a coffee farmer from Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, shared that she started trading coffee in the 1980s, but stopped in 2002 because of low coffee prices. However, in 2015, she realized that she needed to go back to coffee farming and established Bumolo’s Integrated Farm, planting catimor, arabica, and robusta coffee varieties. She shared that she successfully expanded her farm and now has an association of 128 farmers. At the present, the farming cooperative now covers all stages of coffee production, from nursery to post-harvest processing, and even a coffee shop.

In Iloilo, Bibay Bionat, another coffee farmer, shared that her late father was originally into sugar cane farming, but shifted to coffee in 2012 in preparation for the possibility of sugar cane prices going down. They developed their robusta coffee farm, La Granja Cerza Roja, in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. She shared that women farmers on their farm are the ones usually tasked with sorting beans because their attention to detail makes them better at doing the job. In a bid to have a more sustainable water source and additional income, her family built a rain catchment facility, where they also cultivate tilapia.

Another coffee farmer, Jocelyn Mamar, shared that she was originally a vendor in a public market before venturing into the coffee business. After selling in a public market for 17 years, Mamar shared that she eventually got interested in planting vegetables and fruits and started off by buying small lots, some of which already had coffee planted on them. Even if she didn’t have a background in coffee farming, her determination to learn through training and seminars, paved the way for her successful John and Marga Nursery Farm, which currently has farms in Luzon (Cavite), Visayas (Bacolod), and Mindanao (Davao del Sur). Though she has a variety of fruits and vegetables, coffee remains her main crop, specifically robusta and liberica.

Maria Teofannie Tutanes, a coffee farmer in Sultan Kudarat, shared that coffee farming was her family’s livelihood ever since she was born and through it, she and her three siblings were able to finish school. “Coffee is profitable,” she emphasized, just find the right skills related to coffee production, processing, and marketing. Currently, she is the owner of PMTZ Care Marketing and producer of Mnemo Coffee, a popular household coffee brand in Mindanao. In her talk, she also advocated for proper financial management to help coffee farmers and traders to prioritize their spending and save money.

“First, you could start with a small property, or you could have a big property, that doesn’t really matter too much, as long as you can grow coffee. You can grow a lot of varieties, and of course in different elevations, just match the soil and elevation with the variety, that’s possible. And the Philippines, by the way, grows all the major varieties, so that’s not the problem. The third is that[,] it’s never too late to get into coffee…..and there is a network of people willing to train you, to teach you, [and] to share their experiences as we’ve seen here people have learned from each other,” shared Guillermo “Bill” Luz, Trustee in the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc., and co-moderator of the webinar, in his concluding takeaway from the discussions.

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