Author: Mark Matthews

When you talk to people about coffee production in the Philippines, many would be surprised to learn that coffee was introduced to the country in the early 1700’s by the Spanish, and it is one of the few countries that produces all the four main varieties of coffee - Arabica, Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica.

With the Philippines as a significant net importer of coffee, and consumption rising annually, Nueva Vizcaya local Juliet Bumolo Morales saw the potential to reinvigorate the local coffee industry.

Hailing from the clan that built the town of Kasibu and a proud Ifugao, Juliet has inspired local farmers to return to coffee farming, with the support of OceanaGold and Business for Development.

“We used to have a lot of robusta coffee trees in the area. In the past Kasibu was a leading coffee producer in the Vizcaya region, but the decline of coffee bean prices discouraged farmers from continuing to tend their farms. The farmers eventually switched to citrus or vegetable production,” says Juliet.

From her own initiative to plant in her backyard, and despite some initial apprehension from the local community, more than 80 farmers have joined the Golden Future for Agriculture program to renew the industry and expand production in the region.

Farmers in the program have been optimistic and committed to managing and expanding their crops, which will take some years to produce coffee beans. Alongside their traditional food crops, rice and citrus, the program commenced with soil testing and site preparation before a number of varieties of seedlings and fertiliser were distributed to farmers in eighteen Barangays across the municipality.

“This is the first time the soil on my farm has ever been tested” says farmer Jonecy Tumilas, whose family has been farming in the Malabing Valley for over three generations. “This provides me good knowledge to manage my crops effectively and reduces my cost, knowing exactly how much fertiliser to use” says Jonecy.

Building the farmers’ capacity is a cornerstone to success. With coffee experts from Benguet State University, who are leaders in Arabica coffee research and development, and the Philippine Coffee Board, farmers have been trained in modern production methods, integrated pest and disease management, as well as coffee bean harvest methods to optimise quality and farmer income.

The Golden Future for Agriculture program is an initiative of OceanaGold and Business for Development, in partnership with the local community and the Municipal Department of Agriculture team. Support has also been received from the Provincial and Regional Agriculture Departments, and has also led to the development of a partnership with Cavite State University’s National Centre for Coffee Research and Development, who are leaders in research and development in Robusta coffee.

At altitudes of 700m and above, the region is well placed to grow all varieties of coffee. Arabica has been planted at higher altitude farms and Robusta beans at the lower altitudes, so that all interested famers have the opportunity to participate in the progam.

With production due to commence in 2022, work is now underway to develop a women-led co-operative that will support the farmers and trade to the market, as well as expand production and farmer participation.

With Juliet’s leadership and inspiration, the vision is to establish a centre of excellence in coffee production to support farmer training and coffee processing, and to establish a café in Kasibu with a picturesque view overlooking the Malabing Valley.

“A partnership ecosystem is critical in all of the programs we develop with communities. This ensures the project has widespread support and is sustained to success” says Business for Development Project Lead, Mark Matthews. “The broad partnership with government, the peak industry association, research and development partners and the private sector in this program, together with the interest and optimism shown by the farmers in planting coffee has seen continued progress building on the initial farmer intake.” says Mark.

The Golden Future for Agriculture program is bringing new enterprises and much needed economic development to Kasibu for farmers and the community, and developing a regionally unique ‘Kasibrew’.