R-12 eyes doubling coffee production in 10 years

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/11 July) — In a bid to cope with the growing demand for coffee in the domestic and foreign markets, coffee industry stakeholders in Region 12 are targeting to double the area’s production and plantation areas for the high-value crop within the next decade.

Danilo Centillas, high-value crops coordinator of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 12, said the expansion of coffee plantations are ongoing in various parts of the region that have been identified as viable areas for coffee planting or growing.

He said they specifically identified around 30,000 hectares of land in the region as potential expansion areas for coffee, which is considered as among the area’s most promising commodities due to market prospects.

The expansion sites were identified based on joint assessments conducted by the agency and the Soccsksargen Coffee Alliance, the region’s main coffee industry body, he said.

“These are mostly upland farm areas that are highly suitable for coffee planting, especially of the premium Arabica variety,” he told MindaNews in an interview.

A report released by DA’s Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) showed that Region 12 is currently the country’s top coffee producer with an average annual production of around 25,000 metric tons (MT).

Also known as Soccsksargen, Region 12 comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

The region presently maintains around 25,223 hectares of coffee plantations that are producing as high as 1.1 MT per hectare, BAS said.

The area’s coffee plantations are concentrated in the upland areas of Senator Ninoy Aquino, Lebak and Kalamansig towns in Sultan Kudarat, Polomolok in South Cotabato and Kidapawan City in North Cotabato.

The industry presently involves around 8,000 farmers who own an average of three hectares of coffee plantations.

In 2011, the region posted a record yield of 28,502 MT of coffee, which accounts for 30.98 percent of the country’s annual production.

It dropped to 27,869 MT in 2012 but remained the highest among the country’s 17 regions.

To facilitate the plantation expansions, Centillas said they recently released an initial P5 million grant for the development of a 50-hectare coffee production area in the municipality of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

He said the initiative, which is assisted by the municipal government of Columbio, mainly benefits small indigenous peoples or tribal farmers in several upland barangays in the area.

The grants covers for the acquisition of 50,000 Robusta coffee seedlings and other necessary production inputs and requirements, he said.

“We’re targeting to start producing quality coffee beans in the area in three years,” he said.

Aside from Columbio, Centillas said they received several proposals for plantation expansions in areas straddled by Mt. Matutum in Polomolok and Tupi towns and portions of the upland areas in T’boli and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.

He said they are currently evaluating the proposals, which will be implemented in partnership with local governments and farmers’ groups.

Along with the expansion of the production areas, he said they provide technical assistance to improve the production practices of local coffee farmers and the quality of their produce.

He said they have also linked up individual and farmer’s groups in the area to financing entities as well as buyers and the markets.

Centillas said they have provided machineries and equipment for the processing of raw coffee beans into value-added products.

He said two coffee producers or farmers groups based in Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat, Kidapawan City are currently producing brewed coffee products through the mini coffee processing facilities provided by the agency.

“We’re actually encouraging more coffee producers to go into processing to add value to their produce and to counter the impact of the fluctuating market prices of dried coffee beans,” he said.

As of Friday, the official said the market prices for coffee beans have dropped to P60 per kilo after reaching around P90 a kilo several months ago due to the unstable global prices.

He said food giant Nestlé Philippines Inc. has remained the top market for local coffee harvests but several producers have started to penetrate the domestic markets through their value-added products.

Centillas specifically cited processor Green Tropics Inc. based in this city that produces premium coffee sourced from Mt. Matutum in Polomolok, South Cotabato.

He said the company, through its Green Tropics brand, markets processed Robusta and Arabica coffee as well as the premium “kape balos” or Civet coffee.

Two processors based in Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat produce processed Arabica and Robusta coffee under the Brown Cup and Kulaman brands.

“We’re hoping to achieve our expansion targets the soonest possible time to cope with the market demands and eventually help reduce the country’s coffee imports,” he added. (MindaNews)