By Carmelito Q. Francisco
DAVAO CITY — Coffee producers are seeking access to research and development (R&D) facilities of state universities to help them develop new products based on specialty beans.
“We will not ask money (from government), that’s the last thing you ask from government,” Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCB) President Pacita U. Juan said during the recent 10th Philippine Coffee Summit held here.
The help that the industry needs, she added, is access to laboratory facilities for quality testing and improving yields.
Ms. Juan said this proposal does not require the passage of a law as public academic institutions already have the facilities and human resources that can be tapped for coffee R&D.
The 15-year-old private sector-led PCB has been named as a Philippine partner by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), an international non-profit organization that promotes and teaches coffee grading.
The PCB initiated last year the Kape Pilipino competition, in which coffee growers submit their produce for grading. The first winners of the competition, with CQI participating in the judging, were two cooperatives from Bukidnon, both headed by women.
Ms. Juan said they are pushing for higher quality beans given the limitations of volume expansion.
“If we cannot do (higher yield), then let’s do the quality,” said Ms. Juan, adding that premium coffee beans would mean better income for farmers.
Glicerio Joel Y. Lumagbas, a member of the PCB board, said the biggest challenge in the expansion of coffee farms is competition from other agricultural sectors, particularly high-value crops.
“The biggest problem that the industry is facing is the conversion of farms as coffee is replaced with pineapple, banana, oil palm,” Mr. Lumagbas said at the forum.
At present, the country produces about 35,000 tons of coffee annually, which meets only about 25% of domestic demand.
Emmanuel R. Quisol, business development coordinator of the Mindanao Productivity in Agricultural Commerce and Trade (MinPACT), said premium coffee beans can be developed for both the arabica and robusta varieties through improved post-harvest practices.
Mr. Quisol said the bulk of the country’s coffee production is sold to commercial buyers rather than the specialty market, which is why most farmers still practice “stripping,” or harvesting beans that are not yet mature.
“One of the highlights of the summit is a discussion on post harvest practices for both arabica and fine robusta,” Mr. Quisol told BusinessWorld.
MinPACT, funded by the US Department of Agriculture and implemented by nonprofit organization ACDI/VOCA, has been promoting harvesting and processing methods for specialty beans, particularly in the Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, and Davao.
Mr. Quisol said the program has been providing facilities and teaching smallholders such techniques as using elevated drying platforms.
“After drying, farmers (under the program) also practice sorting to remove all coffee defects and foreign (objects), which is a standard in specialty coffee,” Mr. Quisol said.
In terms of funding for expansion, Ms. Juan said that they see no shortage of available financing, but farmers need guidance on how to access the funds.
“There are many sources of funds, among them Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) have their windows for crop production, including coffee,” Ms. Juan said.
She said DBP even has a special lending program for women, as well as the Inclusive Lending for Aspiring Entrepreneurs, a program that can be tapped by small coffee producers.
Another income source that can be developed for coffee producers is farm tourism, she said.
“What only needs to be done is to clean these farms and the DoT (Department of Tourism) will train the tour guides so that farmers can make money out of tourism,” she said. — with a report from Maya M. Padillo