By Yvette Tan

COVID-19 has affected all aspects of life on a global scale, with everyone being forced to adapt to a world where the virus is present. The Philippine coffee industry is no exception. Local coffee, which has been gaining traction before the pandemic, has faced setbacks. “It was getting all the attention and support from hotels, restaurants, and cafes and we were getting ready for many coffee and food shows abroad that will further showcase Philippine coffee,” says Pacita U. Juan, co-chair and president, Philippine Coffee Board, INc. (PCBI).

A coffee nursery in Cavite sells Barako seedlings to those wanting to start a coffee farm. (Photo courtesy of PCBI)

She further shares that “the supply chain has been shaken” and everyone involved in the industry, from farmers to coffee shop owners, are worried. “We recently had a consultative meeting with major Philippine roasters and all of them have suffered a drop of about 80% in demand from all sectors—HoReCa (hotel, restaurant, and cafe), as well as supermarkets and groceries,” she says.

When asked how she thinks the industry can take steps towards recovery, she answered, “We need to drive consumption of local coffee and avoid importing if we can.”

According to Juan, most of the country’s production is consumed locally, and “we are still a net importer of instant coffee and 3-in-1 mixes.”

The PCBI had plans to establish coffee planting initiatives, which are currently postponed due to COVID-19. “We were supposed to start a coffee farm project in Marawi with Philippine Disaster Resilience foundation (PDRF) and Marawi State University, facilitated by USAID. Alas, this is on hold of course because of GCQ and the stopping of movements around the country,” Juan says.

“We were also about to send ten young coffee farmers to Indonesia to learn processing coffee from Indonesian farmers in the hope that we can supply the local needs of Mayora/ Kopiko. The trip was postponed indefinitely due to COVID.”

Coffee classes will now be done online rather than face to face. (Photo courtesy of Pacita U. Juan)

The PCBI continues to promote local coffee through social media, and will be offering online seminars where people can find out which part of the coffee chain is the best fit for them. It has also published Growing Arabica and Robusta Coffee in the Philippines, a how-to for farmers interested in growing the crop. “A lot have responded that they want to start coffee farms now, as many citizens own land and may go back to their provinces to plant instead of looking for work, which may be hard to do with looming unemployment in the city.”

Juan is optimistic. “There are many business opportunities in coffee,” she says. Examples include starting a coffee nursery for folks who have the land and selling roasted coffee for those who don’t. “Sell roasted coffee in your neighborhood. People would rather buy from a neighbor than have to line up in a grocery,” she says.

To increase their chances of success, she encourages local farmers to produce specialty coffee, as the demand for it is still strong. “Keep up the good work. Plant more coffee in your spare time and increase your production of specialty coffee. The local roasters are looking to use local coffee if the quality is consistently good.”