(PIA)– “Sabali ti kape tatta, babassit.” (Coffee trees nowadays are different, they are small.)
Farmer Lee Banyaga explains some of the challenges he now faces with growing his coffee trees.
Banyaga is among the coffee farmers in the northern barangays of Sagada, Mountain Province who have seen a decline of coffee production in the recent years.
Towering pine trees, low-lying clouds, and the perfect “sweater weather” might explain the love for coffee in the tourist town of Sagada.
Coffee industry in Sagada goes way back.
Traditionally, coffee cultivation is mainly for family consumption.
The first growers of Sagada Coffee for the market is Fidelisan, one of the barangays in the northern part of the town.
“For us who are born here in Sagada, we grew up hearing about Fidelisan Coffee,” recalled Sagada Mayor James Pooten Jr.
In 2017, Sagada local farmer Sibayan’s coffee was recognized as one of the best coffees in the word during the International Contest of Coffees Roasted in their Countries of Origin hosted by the Agence Pour la Valorisation des ProduitsAgricoles.
Sagada coffee over the years
Just as Sagada rises as one of the tourist havens up North, the demand for coffee also grew.
Coffee plantations have spread to the other communities of Sagada as locals saw opportunity for additional income.
“Since there are more visitors more people who consume coffee, the coffee plantations are revisited,” said Pooten.
Not so Grandé anymore
Unlike its fast-growing tourism industry, Sagada’s coffee cultivation has struggled over the years.
Different factors have affected the coffee industry even in some of the northern barangays where coffee is originally grown.
“When we were younger, I remember they don’t really plant the coffee but these days you really have to cultivate the seedlings so they can grow,” shared Baniaga, a coffee grower in Barangay Madongo.
Aside from the challenge of growing coffee, farmers also saw a decline in their harvest leading some growers to shift focus on cultivating cash-crops like cabbage and pepper.
“Before, coffee is more abundant. Coffee dealers from Bontoc and Bila (Bauko) come to get our produce then but coffee production has now declined, even stopped,” Andrew Tumeg, another coffee grower from Barangay Bangaan, said.
Keeping Sagada coffee brewing
In 2017, the Coffee Heritage Project, a movement that promotes collaboration among different sectors to uplift Philippine coffee, started to hold an annual coffee tree planting activity to help local farmers revive coffee plantations.
“Coffee Heritage Project (CHP) is about preserving our coffee tradition and a way to achieve this goal is by making people aware and engaged in reliving our coffee culture,” said Rich Watanabe, head of the CHP.
Unlike other tree planting activities, the group has come up with different ways to help farmers in terms of monitoring and maintenance of the coffee plants.
Soil scientist and agriculturist Ana Abasolo shared the group has community organizers and agriculturists who provide farmers technical support particularly in the application of fertilizers and pest and disease management.
With the experts are the farm hands who are currently helping 30 coffee farmers in terms of labor such as weeding, clearing, and preparing compost.
“Our effort to help coffee growers is also supported by research. Planting and growing coffee now face many challenges like natural factors including very high temperature and frequent rains. And to support our coffee growers in maintaining their crops, it is better that we anchor it on science,” added Abasolo. (JDP/JJPM-PIA CAR)
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