Feature Story: Coffee perks up farmers’ lives

newlogoPIAThe soon to be launched Robusta coffee in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur was 50 years in the making. And if the farmers of barangay Kahayagan in this municipality took them that long, this coffee must be very, very good! In 1965 farmers started to grow coffee in a forest reserve area owned by Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP).

Their organic coffee has already created local yet loyal customers, but it was very slow to go mainstream due to lack of support. Since their product has a big market in Caraga region, 30 farmers created the Mabuhay- Kahayagan Coffee Growers (MKCGC) in 2007 and contributed P1,000 each for their starting capital. Three years later, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) distributed an area covering 2,772 hectares for the coffee plantation.

But for these poor farmers, running farmers, running the cooperative was not easy, most especially when coffee growing came to a halt brought about by the low buying price of fresh berries. With continued guidance from DAR, the organization was encouraged to just plant more and utilizes the land until Nestle became the organization’s valued buyer. Nestle provided the organization with quality variety of coffee and several planting and growing trainings.

On the other hand, the DAR developed the organizations maturity with various capability-building trainings and continuing seminars on product development. Under the common service facilities component of DAR’s Agrarian Reform community Connectivity and Economic Support Services (ARCCESS) project, MKCGC received one unit flatbed drier and sprayer all worth P1.4 million. The dryer encouraged the farmers to expand their coffee farms so that it could cater bigger volume than of the present facility.

The DAR also helped the cooperative by looking for partner-agencies to develop their coffee business. Aside from the DAR’s dehuller machine for the coffee beans, the Department of Agriculture also provided one, the Department of Social Welfare and Development gave P350,000 to help with their coffee production needs and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) offered one industrial coffee  grinder and two industrial coffee roasters. The DOST also taught the farmers about the nutritional facts of coffee.

The business went on the nestle using the world market’s fair price and the cooperative grew to 143 members with a working capital of more than P100,000. But MKCGC could not just stop as supplier to Nestle. With a special arrangement, Nestle allowed the use of 5 percent - 10 percent of the farmers harvest for their own product.

And with the business development service component of DAR-ARCCESS, MKCGC was trained in roasting, grinding and packaging that gave birth to another business opportunity for the cooperative - the Tagbina Robusta Coffee. While waiting for the approval of the facilities from the ARCCESS’ common service facilities component like roaster and grinder, MKCGC, in pursuit of bringing their product closer to the market, tapped outsource services but continues to hope for the approval of the facilities. Construction is on-going for the MKCGC’s coffee processing center implemented under DAR’s village-level processing center enhancement program.

Under this program, the DAR gave P500,000 and the Tagbina town provided a counterpart of P200,000 for the construction of processing center. The Tagbina Robusta Coffee, which soon be launched in the market, will not only provide our coffee time with new aroma but also perks a new hope of success for Tagbina coffee farmers. (Joie L. Ceballos DAR-CARAGA Info officer/PARO-SDS/PIA-Surigao del Sur)