PH coffee farmers need to catch up

    Oversupply. Farmers earn P25,500 per hectare on 300 kilograms of yield.
    Oversupply. Farmers earn P25,500 per hectare on 300 kilograms of yield.

    MALAYBALAY, Bukidnon – Science just might increase the yield of coffee trees to a ton per hectare.

    That will translate to a huge increase in income for farmers to about P25,500 from the national average of 300 kilograms per hectare to P85,000 if they hit a ton.

    Coffee prices now average at P85 per kilogram. World prices have dropped due to oversupply.

    Food giant Nestle Philippines, in search of raw materials, wants to increase the yield and in turn raise the income of coffee farmers in Mindanao which produces over 70 percent of the 98,000 tons of the country’s yearly coffee output.

    Sultan Kudarat province, followed by Bukidnon, supplies most of Nestle’s green coffee beans. That is just 20 percent of Nestle’s needs; the rest mostly comes from Vietnam and Indonesia.

    German aid agency GIZ and Nestle are collaborating in the Project Coffee Plus that, since April this year, has trained 1,500 farmers in eight towns in Sultan Kudarat and Bukidnon on good farming practices.

    There is a lot of potential to increase local coffee production, said GIZ’s Matthias Radek during a Farmers’ Field Day here at the Northern Mindanao Agricultural Crops and Livestock Research Complex last week.

    Compared to Vietnam, which averages about 2 tons of coffee production per hectare, the Philippines needs lot of catching up to do with just 300 kilograms per hectare.

    Arthur Baria, head of Nestle Agriculture Services, said Indonesian and Filipino coffee growers are about at par production-wise, except that Indonesia has about 1 million hectares planted to coffee.

    “We want to increase the income of Filipino farmers by 20 percent, the yield by 50 percent,” Radek said.

    Project Coffee Plus continues until 2020; the plan is to expand the initiative to more coffee farmers beyond that.

    Farmers under the program plant about 1,667 trees per hectare for an all-coffee farm, 1,000 when intercropped with sweet pepper, tomato and vegetables in Bukidnon where it is also grown with timber and forest trees. Coffee is intercropped with durian, mangosteen and fruit trees in Sultan Kudarat.

    From 2012 to 2018 about 16 million high-yielding plantlets have been distributed by government agencies to farmers, most of them growing the crop in one hectare on average.

    It takes three years for the first “substantial” harvest, said Ma. Angela Bautista, Nestle corporate affairs executive. Since Project Coffee Plus started last year, harvests have doubled for a number farmers who adhere to good management practices, she said.

    “Science together with good farming practices are bringing good results to coffee farmers enrolled in Nestle’s and GIZ’s Farmer Business School,” Bautista said. “We expect a low of 20 percent and a high of 100 percent increase in yield among participating farmers.”

    The Farmer Business School teaches coffee propagation, grafting, nursery and farm establishment, fertilization, care and maintenance, harvesting and post-harvest operations, quality control and marketing, coffee rejuvenation and regeneration — and in record keeping.

    Farmers also learn the 4C Code of Conduct, the international standard for responsible coffee production. Adherence to 4C, for example, means no child labor, no banned pesticides and no substandard wages.

    Nestle buys the beans directly from farmers who are free to sell to other buyers. Nestle is not into contract growing.

    Buying stations guarantee a price based on global market prices. The farmers are paid within eight banking hours so they benefit within a convenient period from the sale of their produce to Nestle, Bautista said.

    During the Farmers’ Field Day, Nestle Philippines unveiled its new coffee buying scheme that has adjusted specifications in order to buy more produce from coffee farmers. For example, the allowable moisture content has been changed from 12 percent to 13 percent.

    “For this year’s harvest season, we forecast to buy more from farmers,” Bautista said.