The Indigenous people of Bukidnon have been growing coffee for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2017 that their efforts were recognized on a national scale.

That year, Inhandig Tribal Multipurpose Cooperative (ITMPC) from Malaybalay took home the prize for the Arabica category in the Kape Pilipino (KP) Green Coffee Quality Competition, a nationwide cupping competition organized by the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI). ITMPC was one of two winners from Bukidon, the other being Kape Maramag from Maramag, who topped the Robusta category. Both went on to represent the Philippines in the Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle, Washington that same year.

Organized in 1998, ITMPC focused on coffee and abaca as these high-value crops were deemed friendly to the forest environment that the tribes lived in in Brgy. Dalwangan, Malaybalay, Bukidnon at the foot of Mt, Kitanglad. Coffee growing wasn’t a new endeavor, as the crop had traditionally been grown on a small scale in their area.

“When we plant coffee, we maintain it by removing grasses, weeds…. After maintaining it for five years, our harvest becomes regular yearly,” says Adelina Tarino, who is known by the honorific Bae Inatlawan which means “Touched by the Sun’s Rays.”

Bae Inatlawan is the chieftain (Bae) of the Daraghuyan-Bukidnon tribe, a member of Mt. Kitanglad Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), and founder of ITMPC. She responded to the interview through Maria Easterluna Canoy, executive director of Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, Inc. (KIN), the partner of the Park Superintendent’s Office of the DENR for the biodiversity conservation and sustainable devt of Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park (MKRNP). “In Inhandig, people consider the forest domain to be the watershed and [a] good environment [for growing coffee],” Bae Inatlawan adds.

A Typica that’s not typical at all

Bae Inatlawan holds a basket of coffee cherries at the ITMPC coffee center in Brgy. Dalwangan, Malaybalay City. The cherries are picked ripe and only those of high quality are used.

The winning beans were naturally processed Typica variety. Typica is a popular type of Arabica coffee and one of the oldest cultivated varieties. Despite its low yield potential and susceptibility to some diseases, its beans are suited to high altitudes and make for an excellent cup of Joe. Naturally processed coffee, also called unwashed, sundried, or dry process, involves picking ripe coffee cherries and drying them under the sun. This method is used in coffee-growing communities that have problems accessing water. After the cherries are dried, they are hulled, which is the process of separating the coffee seed from the rest of the fruit. The natural drying process results in a fruitier brew with a fuller body as the coffee cherry’s sugars are allowed to naturally meld into the seed.

Even though the tribes have been growing coffee for generations, part of the reason they have been able to keep producing the same quality of coffee beans after their win is their commitment to quality and their willingness to learn beneficial farming and processing techniques. “[After] the ITMPC coffee won [in 2017], the DTI provided training on packaging and these are even displayed at DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) outlets. Also, ITMPC Coffee is packed as Noble Bean.” Canoy says.

The cooperative also received help from international nonprofit organization ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance). “[What] we learned from ACDI/VOCA is about soil (grain) quality when we plant the coffee seedlings,” Bae Inatlawan says. “[They taught us new technology in choosing the quality of beans, [the] right picking of cherries, washing, dehulling, and drying. With the technology, we market our coffee for better prices.”

Throughout their eagerness to absorb and practice new and efficient technologies to develop their coffee farming and processing runs a dedication to their first responsibility: to be steward of the earth and guardians of their tribal cultures.

Maintaining optimum quality

Bae Inatlawan inspects sun-dried coffee beans at the ITMPC coffee center in Brgy. Dalwangan, Malaybalay City. The Inihandig coffee is naturally processed, meaning it is spread on raised beds and left to dry under the sun, resulting in a more flavorful bean.

Bae Inatlawan says that coffee farming has been a boon for the community, especially after their win in 2017. “[It made a] big difference. [The] DTI gave us a roasting machine in 2018. Now we have a plastic dryer closed facility from DENR-INREMP (Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project) where we dry the beans. This was given in Jan 2019, so our coffee production and marketing has greatly improved,” she says.

She also offered some secrets on how Noble Bean keeps up its quality. “After harvest, make sure the beans are properly dried and washed,” she shares. “The coffee grinder and roasting machine should always be cleaned [after use], although we still prefer the manual way of roasting.”

The coffee is divided into different classes for sale: “Arabica is our first class coffee, or class A. We sell it at P200 for ¼ kg or 250 grams, farm gate price. Other strains of Arabica include Catimor, or Class B, which is sold at P150 for 250 grams [as well as] Arabica Sweet Coffee, or Class C, sold at P130 for 250 grams and [an old variety of] Robusta that is sold at P100 per 250 grams,” Bae Inatlawan shares. “Buyers buy either beans or roasted ground coffee; the beans of Arabica are big and oblong-shaped, Sweet Coffee beans are still oblong but smaller; and Catimor beans are round.”

Unfortunately, sales have slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the cooperative does have an online store.

ITMPC continues to produce quality beans after making its mark on the nation’s coffee consciousness. Still, the community has a ways to go in terms of needed resources and machinery. “To stabilize our coffee business, we need a bodega space and display center where we showcase our packed ITMPC coffee and wild honey. We also need materials for packaging,” Bae Inatlawan shares.

In between the natural drying process it uses and a leader dedicated to developing a thriving community whose livelihood is intertwined with keeping nature and their culture alive, Bukidnon’s Noble Bean is truly touched by the sun’s rays.

Photos by Glenn Timothy Palacio for KIN                    

For more information visit Inhandig Coffee https://www.facebook.com/Inhandig-Coffee-120446806537270/