Photos and Story By Georgene Quilaton-Tambiga
The Laudato Si’ Environmental Center of Colegio de Sto. Tomas-Recoletos (LEC) and Life and Mission Project or LAMP 38 with Colegio de San Nicolas Tolentino-Recoletos ascended to 869 meters above sea level, at the Municipality of Don Salvador Benedicto (DSB), Negros Occidental, to experience firsthand the rarely known coffee value chain. With the Philippine Coffee Advancement & Farm Enterprise (PhilCAFE) of Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (ACDI/VOCA) as facilitator, four Augustinian Recollect administrators and teachers encountered coffee in a whole new way—from farm to cup. Rev. Fr. Vicente Ramon, Jr., OAR, LEC director, led the Augustinian Recollect delegation.
The Climate Change Narrative
Climate change has highly impacted coffee farming and production, especially in the Philippines. PhilCAFE Business Development and Training Coordinator Ariel Lastica highlighted this while citing data from the World Coffee Research, a PhilCAFE partner.
“In the next ten years, coffee can no longer grow in areas where arabica coffee trees are now growing.” The required elevation for arabica, generally considered a superior variety, has also increased—from 800 to at least 1,000 meters above sea level—due to warming temperature.
Meanwhile, in Minoyan, Murcia town, Mr. Teddy Cañete, president of the Minoyan Murcia Marginal Coffee Growers Agri-Cooperative, lamented that super Typhoon Odette (International name: Rai) has destroyed a large portion of their plantation. The agri-cooperative’s coffee drying dome was also slashed into pieces by the typhoon’s ripping wind and growers like him had to salvage inferior beans by putting them up to dry on rooftops. As Cañete showed the coffee cherry de-pulping process, he shared that there is a shortage of quality coffee in Negros, an aftermath of the typhoon’s destruction.
This situation proves true Pope Francis’s Pastoral Letter on the Environment and Human Development in Bolivia (quoted in the Laudato Si’ Encyclical) that “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”
Uplift Coffee Farmers
As LEC continues to seek for and promote effective methods of sustainable farming, Lastica brought the delegates to the farm of Mr. Electo Villaster, coffee farmer and Vice-President of Don Salvador Benedicto Integrated Social Forestry Federation (ISF). Mr. Villaster, who is a retired fireman, treated the team to hot cups of brewed coffee while he shared the story of his five-year old farm in Barangay Bunga, DSB. PhilCAFE has assigned it as a demo-farm with 1,200 coffee trees. “We do not have our coffee if we do not have our farmers.” Lastica pointed out. He added that to truly support Philippine coffee means to get educated about its value chain—from its farming to trading.
Provincial Environment & Management Office (PEMO) forester Samuel Maja said that once the town of Don Salvador Benedicto was a coffee plantation because its elevation made it ideal for growing coffee trees but gullible farmers were forced to sell at very cheap prices by fraudulent traders. While PhilCAFE, as an NGO, aims to bring together and mentor 13,700 coffee farmers, it also aims to improve the farmers’ mindset so that they now apply scientific and proven coffee production methods and efficient trading techniques, all while their values of integrity and honesty are formed. Pope Francis has constantly warned that “the defenseless” often fall victims of “the interests of a deified market,” as what is happening among farmers.
At another site, in Barangay Bagong Silang, DSB, coffee growers gathered at the PEMO Nursery, for the mentoring program. LEC and LAMP 38 delegates observed as farmers learn to make their own farm plans and maps with mentor Bene Crucero, a coffee farmer and ISF member. While the delegates inhaled the aroma of freshly brewed cups of robusta, tendered with care and hard labor by Negrense growers, the group contemplated on ways to help promote locally grown and processed coffee and to expand the Philippine market for quality coffee—a steep goal but doable with community effort.