BATANGAS, Philippines – There was a time when the city of Lipa was the number one exporter of coffee in the world.
Coffee production started in the 1700s when a Franciscan friar planted the first coffee tree in this city, but in the 1890s, the industry faced a problem with pest infestation. Since then, farmers moved on to other cropping systems.
According to coffee farmer Jose Mercado, the Philippines was capable of exporting 500,000 bags of coffee in the 1980s, but this is clearly no longer the case.
“Ngayon nag-iimport na tayo ng kape para matugunan ang mga 70% to 75% na local consumption,” he said. (READ: The growing community of specialty coffee)
(Today, we import coffee to supply 70% to 75% of local consumption.)
Kapeng Barako Revival Project
“Sagisag ng mga taga-Batangas ang pagiging barako, ang pagiging mayabang natin, ang ating pride, dignity and nobility of Batangueños. Simbolo ito, ngunit dapat yumaman din tayo sa pamamagitan ng coffee kapares noong una,” said Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas.
(Being barako is a symbolism of being a Batangueño – our pride, dignity, and nobility. This is all symbolism but we should also start to gain wealth from coffee just like how it used to be.)
It is for this reason that the advocacy group, Batangas Forum, partnered with the provincial government of Batangas launched the Kapeng Barako Revival Project. (READ: Long live coffee)
The Batangas Forum is also partnering with the Batangas State University to address the problem of manual harvesting.
“Kami ay nagbubuo ng isang pag-aaral upang makabuo ng isang makina para matugunan ang problema ng harvesting pagdating ng panahon. Pero ngayon, ang kailangan muna ay ang palaganapin at buhaying muli ang kape sa lalawigan ng Batangas,” shared Batangas Forum president Francisco Lirio.
(We started through a study in order to build a machine to address the problem of harvesting when the time comes. But now, what we need id to spread and revive coffee farming in the province of Batangas.)
No more coffee planters
The problem, according to Mercado, is that younger generations are no longer interested in coffee planting.
“Una, ayaw nang madumihan ang kamay. Mas gusto pa nilang mag-tricycle kasi sa hapon may kita na, may pera na. Pag kape siyempre maghihintay ka ng ilang taon. Pero nakakalungkot kasi ang kinabukasan nandiyan.”
(They don’t want to get their hands dirty. They choose to drive tricycles because at the end of the day, they already have earned money. When you plant coffee, you still have to wait for a couple of years. It is saddening though because this is the future.)
It has been almost 10 years since he started planting in their barangay and he has since encouraged others to do the same, but to this day, nobody has followed suit. (READ: A coffee journey: From the farm to your cup)
When Mercado started planting coffee, the price was only P50 per kilo, now it has gone up to P200. He says you would normally have to wait 8 years for your first harvest. Farmers with good management practices who employ a scientific approach can expect to harvest in two years.
“Kung sa 8 taon, pwedeng mag-ani ka na ng hanggang 5 kilo. Sa 5 kilo, may P1,000 ka kada puno,” he said.
(If in 8 years, you can harvest up to 5 kilos, you will earn P1,000 per tree.)
Mercado swears that coffee farming is a bankable livelihood. His father who was a tenant farmer in the early days was able to send them all to school, and they now run the successful local coffee chain Cafe de Lipa.
Redeeming Batangas as coffee capital
At present, Batangas only produce 13% of the coffee supply in Calabarzon, while Cavite produces 67%. In the country, the entire Calabarzon region contributes a mere 7% of the local production of coffee.
Aside from distributing free coffee seedlings to farmers, Mandanas says the provincial agriculture office will provide technical assistance to ensure an integrated approach.
They are also infusing a P20 billion investment in an infrastructure project which he said will support this cause. (WATCH: Keeping the organic coffee farming tradition in Sagada alive)
“Aabutin tayo ng mahigit na sampung taon para bawiin ang Batangas bilang coffee capital of the Philippines, pero kailangan ipakita natin na magkakakwarta ka ‘pag nagtanim at nagbili ng kapeng barako,” he added.
(We will reach more than a decade to redeem Batangas as the coffee capital of the Philippines, but we need to show that you will earn money if you plant kapeng barako.)
Lirio believes this is just the beginning of a long-term project but is determined to reclaim what he describes as “a title that rightfully belongs to the province of Batangas.” – Rappler.com
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