What are the Department of Agriculture’s plans for coffee cultivation and production in the Philippines in 2022?

This was the question answered by Usec Evelyn G. Laviña, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Undersecretary for High Value Crops and Rural Credit in a recent Pan de Sal forum, a roundtable discussion organized and moderated by Wilson Lee Flores of the 82-year old Kamuning Bakery Cafe.

Despite the rising popularity of coffee as a beverage, the country’s coffee production has actually been steadily decreasing, from 68,800 metric tons in 2016 to 60,600 mt in 2020, though there was a slight increase from 2019 to last year. Factors that contributed to this decline include ageing farmers, farmers shifting to other crops, and the conversion of agricultural land to real estate. As of 2020, there are about 1300 hectares planted to coffee, with the DA trying to further increase production through parallel efforts that include planting new trees and rehabilitating old ones.

The Philippines grows four kinds of coffee: Arabica, which makes up a majority of the world’s coffee production; Robusta, which is commonly used to make instant coffee, and Exelsa and Liberica, which are locally known as barako coffee. “83.6% [of production] is from Mindanao, Luzon is 9.2%, and 7.2% comes from the Visayas,” Usec Laviña said.

This level of production isn’t enough, especially considering that coffee is one of the country’s top imported products, with the Philippines importing 213.3 metric tons of the stuff in 2020 alone. In terms of export, the Philippines ranked 32nd in the world, where in the 1800s, it used to rank as one of the top four exporters globally, before coffee rust decimated the country’s crops, a setback from which it hasn’t yet recovered.

The numbers show that the Philippines is a coffee drinking country, and that there is a huge opportunity for coffee farmers to fulfill even just the local demand for a cup of Joe.

Photo by Tina Guina on Unsplash

Coffee supply chain 

The local coffee supply chain is divided into four major areas: production, post-harvest processing and production, trade and marketing.

The DA is currently revising the Philippine Coffee Roadmap, developed in cooperation with the private sector and other government agencies, which will outline how stakeholders from both private and public sectors can work together to better the industry. The Roadmap, which will be released late this year, aims for a production of 240,000 metric tons next year, or 1.8 to two kilos of coffee beans per tree per year, a one to 1.2 kilo increase from the current .8 kilos per tree per year.

As with all agricultural products, good quality coffee starts with the soil. There is a need for the production of good planting materials, proper selection of growing sites, access to adequate water and nutrition, proper pest management, and the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), among others.

There should also be proper harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing and handling, and trade and marketing. “For Input Supply, DA Bureau of Plant Industry is the lead agency when it comes to the planting material because we need certified planting material. DA has been pushing for the use of certified planting materials coming from accredited nurseries since this will ensure a higher volume of production, resistance to pests and disease, and lower chance of mortality from the transport of the plant that’s being transported,”  Usec Laviña said.

The DA encourages smallholder farmers to form cooperatives to achieve economies of scale both in terms of sales and also in terms of access to harvest and post-processing machinery. “We also have coffee community-based development enterprises… We provide them with machinery like coffee hullers, pulpers, roasters, and even how they store their coffee, which is through hermetic bags. So we’re trying our best. Besides encouraging them to practice good agricultural practices so they produce good coffee that can fetch good prices,” Usec Laviña added.

The Department is hoping for a budget of 125 million pesos next year just for coffee to help make this happen.

Sales and marketing opportunities 

The increase in interest in coffee locally and globally shows that there’s a huge market waiting to be filled by local coffee farmers. “We really need to capacitate the farmers through updated technology,” said DA Project Development Officer for High Value Crops and Rural Credit Paolo Tatlonghari.

Other DA trade and marketing efforts include improved packaging and more promotion of Philippine coffee as well as better financing packages for coffee farmers and SMEs, which will include other government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

There’s a huge potential for Philippine coffee, both locally and in the global market. Philippine specialty coffee beans have already begun to make headway in international cupping competitions, and there are calls within the industry to pick red cherries for higher quality beans. As of this year, the third most expensive beans came from a farmer from Kibungan, Benguet, selling for about P2500/ kilo.

Awards aside, more and more local third wave coffee shops have been priding themselves in offering locally grown specialty coffee. “Many young people are into coffee… just (in our country), we already need a lot of coffee,”  Usec Laviña said in Tagalog. “But of course, we should produce a quality that is accepted in the world market. So whether it is for local use or for export, we are ready. That’s how we look at it. That’s why we said in the roadmap we really need to produce quality coffee beans.”

The pandemic may have slowed down local coffee distribution, but the DA is confident that this can be overcome. After all, if the Philippines produces 68,800 metric tons but imports 213.3 metric tons of coffee annually, it means that there’s a lot of demand to be fulfilled just on the local level. If the local coffee industry can fulfill even just that, it will be  a resounding success.