By Antonio G. Papa, Ph.D.

Historically, the Philippines led in Southeast Asia as far as coffee production was concerned. Today, however, it is otherwise.

The status of Philippine coffee industry, as compared to its neighboring coffee producing countries, is quite dismal in terms of area planted to coffee, yield per hectare, and government support to the industry. However, value-adding through quality produce from seeds to brew must be done to command a higher price of coffee.

Given these situations, Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan, former Chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and former Chairman of CvSU’s Board of Regents (BOR), offered a snapshot of the status of Philippine coffee industry compared to its neighbors and reported what CHED has done to alleviate the situation. Herewith are her accounts of the situational analysis and the charted actions done by CHED.

Dried pulped coffee beans. (NCRDEC)

The Philippines’ place in the coffee industry

In terms of the Philippines coffee performance (area and yield), data from the Department of Agriculture (DA) show that we are nowhere near our ASEAN neighbors, namely Vietnam and  Indonesia (and even Thailand). On land area planted to coffee alone, the Philippines has 120,000 hectares for coffee with a yield of 0.20-0.30 tons of green beans per hectare. while Vietnam’s 537,000 hectares and Indonesia’s 1.3 million hectares yield 2.4 tons and 0.67 tons of green beans per hectare, respectively.

Government support to the coffee industry in the Philippines at Php500 Million is relatively low compared to Indonesia’s Php650 Million and Vietnam’s whopping Php14.7 Billion.

According to Dr. Licuanan, “there is no way to go but up in our desire to improve Philippine coffee production and quality. The country may be lagging behind in terms of volume or output and may not at times be able to compete with the big players, but there is a silver lining in the Philippine Coffee Industry and that is what the Millennials call ‘value’.

“Small in volume but of high value is possibly how the local industry can become more competitive and I believe this is the way forward. We must think about quality from seed to shell (planting, sorting, drying), bean to brew (roasting, grinding, preparing the coffee properly). By doing this right and properly, farmers can demand a higher price for their coffee,” Licuanan added.

Another area where Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI) has concentrated on is the promotion of coffee from women farmers, making it of special origin and promoting it widely as “Traceable coffee.” Consumers place more value on food when they know where it comes from.

Finally, taking into account the success of Indonesia and Vietnam, the proposed Masterplan of the Philippine Coffee Industry of the Department of Agriculture benchmarked these two countries and identified areas where the country is weak such as in production yield/output, farming, and processing costs.

The Masterplan listed strategic directions and action programs, and identified State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) as an engine of growth in the revitalization of the Philippine coffee industry working in unison with the farmer, civil society organizations, national and local government units. SUCs play an important role from the establishment of certified coffee seedlings and nurseries, training of farmers/ propagators on modern farm/processing and post-harvesting practices, up to the production and dissemination of information, education and communication materials.

The Plan also underscored the strengthening of the National Coffee Research, Development and Extension Center (NCRDEC) which is housed at Cavite State University (CvSU), Indang, Cavite and the setting up of research centers in Benguet State University, Sultan Kudarat State University and the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center in Davao City. In the process, there will be greater need for coffee scientists and experts in the coming years. Knowing all these, the Commission on Higher Education will assist in the realization of this plan.

A coffee nursery at Cavite State University. (NCRDEC)

CHED’S Investment on Research, Development and Extension

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) released Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 52, series of 2016 entitled “Pathways to Equity, Relevance, and Advancement in Research, Innovation and Extension in Philippine Higher Education,” which signifies the commitment to ensure that we provide the necessary spaces for all in our ED’s collective pursuit of new knowledge and innovations which is the currency of higher education and through which we engage the world.”

This order articulates the strategic thrusts and pathways that can harness the potentials of higher education institutions as: 1) platforms for knowledge production and advancement, 2) engines of development through responsive and relevant research programs, and 3) producers of poly-specialists, creators, problem-solvers, collaborators, inventors, thinkers and innovators who can examine phenomena, explore new frontiers, and bring from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary lenses.

The CMO outlines various grants-in-Aid programs that are competition-driven and designed for researchers and innovators, HEI consortia or groups, i.e.: 1) Grants-in-Aid for Research and Innovation, 2) Grants-in-Aid for Extension Programs on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 3) Grants-in-Aid for Industrial Extension/ Academe-Industry Linkages, 4) Discovery Applied Research and Extension for Trans/interdisciplinary Opportunities (DARE TO) program (designed for faculty/ staff affected by K to 12 transition), and 5) Journal Challenge Program and Journal Incubation Program.

Coffee cherries on the tree. (NCRDEC)

In consideration of these pursuits, CHED shall advocate for purposive investments that: 1) steer research interest towards transdisciplinary platforms that combine the creative arts, humanities and the social sciences with science, technology, engineering, agri-fisheries and mathematics, 2) foster a healthy and vibrant relationship with industry as well as small and medium scale businesses, 3) foster knowledge transfer by encouraging their faculty members to move beyond their conventional missions focused on research and teaching to service, advancing innovation and technology, 4) accelerate local and global inter-university research collaborations, 5) establish institutional scientific-technological niches and economic centers, and 6) create an innovation ecosystem among many others.

With all of these plans, the CHED will be an instrument for the holistic development of Philippine coffee industry towards the realization of NCRDEC’s envisioned task of “bringing back Philippine coffee in the world market.”

Photos courtesy of National Coffee Research, Development and Extension Center (NCRDEC)