According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report on the Philippines Coffee Situation and Outlook for 2011, there were only 933,034 mature Liberica coffee trees compared with the overall 84,544,625 trees as of 2010.
There is a growing awareness for this robust-flavored bean, though, that has gradually steeped into the coffee consumers’ awareness. Roasters like Siete Baracos, Silca Coffee, and Belardo Coffee have also supported its growth.
Dr. Alejandro Mojica, PCBI director and co-author of Barako: The Big Bean, affirms that while promotions for Barako have improved over the years, it is the supply that remains the problem. Is the production remains low, the Philippines cannot answer the global demand.
PLANTING THE SEEDS
PCBI director Glicerio Lumagbas understood this reality when he invested in developing a Liberica coffee farm in Palawan.
He noted the sad state of Barako production. “There is almost zero growth because very few farmers have invested in Barako production. Actually, Barako volume has been propped up by adulteration with Excelsa coffee beans imported from Vietnam. On the appreciation side, growth has been steady, although limited by availability of enough Barako coffee beans.”
He emphasized the need for more Liberica trees, not just for local but also for global demand. “Firstly, there is a serious shortage of Liberica coffee in the Philippines and in the world. The Philippines is one of only four or five countries that still produce Liberica coffee.”
He explained that Liberica coffee trees have a potential to produce five kilos of green coffee beans per tree per year. “At 833 trees per hectare, with dense planting as practiced now in Malaysia, you are looking at a potential yield of four metric tons per hectare per year. Even at only P120 per kilo, that is already an income of P480,000 per hectare per year. Moreover, Liberica coffee trees are not subject to diminishing yield curve pattern like Robusta coffee trees, which would require rejuvenation or cutting every ten years to maintain productivity.”
He also mentioned how Malaysia is now experiencing a serious shortage of Liberica coffee beans with their meager land devoted to Liberica coffee. “They cannot expand their Liberica coffee plantations because their lands are devoted to rubber and palm oil. They are currently importing Liberica coffee and are paying 14 to 15 Malaysian Ringgit per kilo of green coffee beans. This could be a lucrative export market for Philippine Liberica coffee.”
PLANS FOR A BARAKO FUTURE
Lumagbas eagerly explained his plans for the Palawan Liberica coffee. “The area we are developing has an elevation of only 200 meters above sea level. Originally, we only intended to plant Robusta coffee but since the area is big, we needed to plant another variety of coffee. Liberica was the obvious choice because it has the same elevation requirement as Robusta.”
Coincidentally, another coffee company has established four nurseries of Liberica in four towns in Palawan, which are being developed into Liberica coffee plantations.
He also plans to produce a washed or honey-processed Liberica coffee for the specialty market. “I am looking at the prospect of a milder-tasting Barako brew as a result of the fermentation and washing process. This is already being done in Malaysia, and their Barako consumption is growing fast. In fact, they have coffee shops dedicated to Liberica coffee.”
Barako has a bright future ahead, with the support of forward-thinking coffee entrepreneurs like Lumagbas and enlightened coffee market.