MALAYBALAY, Bukidnon—After coffee farmer Arnold Abear embraced the “regenerative agriculture” concept of Nestle Philippines Inc., his yield perked up.
Abear told the BusinessMirror that prior to adopting the multinational firm’s farming strategy, his yield hovered around 250 kilos to 350 kilos per hectare per year.
Currently, Abear said his farm has been hitting an average 900 kilos per hectare, even reaching a staggering “more than 1 ton of yield per hectare.” Abear’s current yield is already above the 538 kilos per hectare average coffee farm yield nationwide, based on latest government figures.
Had Nestle Philippines not intervened, the farmer from Northern Mindanao said “siguro po wala na; patay na ang industriya ng kape dito sa ating bansa.”
He believes that the multinational firm’s investments ultimately benefit both farmers and consumers alike.
Abear’s achievement confirms the experience of Nestle Philippines, as expressed by Corporate Affairs Executive and Agronomist Donnel Tiedra.
“It only means na kapag [if it’s the] right technology, bringing technical assistance with the coffee value chain and bringing the farmers to the farm business school,” it can have a significant impact, Tiedra said during the event the company organized here.
There’s only one problem: Abear is pushing 50. And “regenerative agriculture,” a farming method that “respects” the cycle of Mother Nature, needs farmers patient with such a long process.
But farmers must be young to make this approach successful and sustainable.
THE “regenerative agriculture” approach introduced by Nestle Philippines comes at a time the Philippines coffee industry is seeing an increase in demand for the bean while supply is unwieldy as coffee farmers are aging, experts say. This is compounded by the need to transfer the agricultural practice to young people.
According to Tiedra, the first hurdle is the attitude of young Filipinos towards farming.
“Majority of young people nowadays, ayaw nila sa [they shun] agriculture, because they always associate agriculture to poverty and hard labor,” he said.
Nestle Philippines Vice President for Corporate Communications Anne Michelle Torres-Pador flagged such conditions as chilling to the coffee industry.
“Kung wala ng mag-kakape [If there are no coffee farmers], paano na ang [what will happen to the] coffee industry bukas [tomorrow]?” she said.
The Nestle executives noted that without an influx of new talent into the coffee industry, there could be a severe shortage of coffee farmers within the next 10 years to 15 years. The Philippines is currently 44.4 percent self-sufficient in coffee, which means more than half of the country’s coffee supply comes from abroad.
They added that such a scenario could lead to the Philippines to increasingly rely on imported coffee and lose leverage when exporters either impose a ban, such as India’s rice stance, or control trade.
And with the local coffee industry still failing to keep up with a rising demand for the beverage, the lure of importation of the commodity becomes more enticing every day.
84% share of Mindanao
THE Department of Agriculture (DA) revealed that the Philippines’s green coffee bean (GCB) production is centered in Mindanao, accounting for a substantial 84 percent of the overall yield.
Meanwhile, Luzon and Visayas contribute 9 percent and 7 percent, respectively, to the country’s GCB production. The statistics highlight the regional disparities in coffee production within the country.
Further analysis of 2022 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), covering the period from January to March 2022, underscores the dominance of Robusta coffee in the country’s coffee production landscape, constituting a significant 72 percent. Arabica coffee follows with a 20 percent share, while Excelsa and Liberica make up 7 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Despite these numbers, a critical issue looms over the Philippine coffee industry—the sufficiency level, or the ability to meet local demand, is alarmingly low, standing at a mere 27 percent.
The PSA data also revealed this deficiency in production compared to demand has been a persistent problem since 2016, posing a significant challenge to the country’s coffee sector.
According to DA Regional Technical Director for Operations (RTDO) Carlota S. Madriaga, the country is an ideal place to grow quality coffee.
However, Madriaga said, local coffee production is decreasing by 3.5 percent annually over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, the country’s coffee consumption for the last three years (2018 to 2020) increased by 2.1 percent.
Nestle Philippines’ Head of Agribusiness, Arthur R. Baria, told the BusinessMirror the concept of enhancing traditional coffee farming – to uplift farmers’ livelihoods by elevating their income above the poverty line—“is a good story to tell; from then, let’s achieve some more.”
“Using regenerative agriculture and intercropping—the more sources of income, the more tataas ang annual income nila,” Baria emphasized.
In 2021, Nestle, in collaboration with the German development agency GIZ, launched an initiative under the Nescafe banner called “Project Coffee Plus.”
This initiative aimed to introduce 1,500 farmers to the principles of Regenerative Agriculture and entrepreneurship.
The outcome of this intervention has been reflected in the data, demonstrating a significant success in increasing the yields and profits of coffee farmers who participated by a remarkable 300 percent.
According to the initiative’s results, coffee farmers achieved an average yield of 900kg/ha, a substantial improvement from the baseline crop yield of 235 kg/ha recorded in the 2018-2019 period.
Notably, a subset of 192 top-performing farmers even exceeded this, achieving yields of 1mt/ha and higher.
The outcomes of this initiative have been closely monitored and evaluated by the Rainforest Alliance, an international nongovernment organization dedicated to partnering with businesses to enhance agriculture, preserve forests, combat climate change, and safeguard the rights of people.
Meanwhile, implementing initiatives are nothing, “kapag walang healthy soil na pagtatamnan ng kape [if there’s no healthy soil on which to plant coffee] in the future generations,” Tiedra said, adding that regenerative agriculture is vital.
“We teach our farmers, to help them develop a richer soil and make these coffee farming communities more resilient,” Tiedra emphasized.
Addressing the challenges faced by Filipino farmers, Baria stressed the importance of training and access to affordable loans.
As the world’s biggest buyer and manufacturer of GCB, Nestle’s commitment to training and access to affordable loans has become a beacon of hope for the coffee industry.
Nestle’s Pador said the company uses a two-pronged approach to rejuvenate the local coffee industry.
“Habang hinahanda po natin ang lupa para sa magkakapeng Pilipino [while we’re preparing the land for coffee-drinking Filipinos], we are also helping the new generation of coffee farmers,” she declared.
She underscored the seriousness of Nestle’s commitment by stating, “We are here to stay; we are here for the long haul.”
Pador acknowledged the issue of aging coffee farmers: “Ang mag-kakape po natin ay tumatanda na [they are getting old],” and urged collaboration within the industry.
There’s hope, though. Third Year Agriculture Student of Sultan Kudarat State University, Queenie Subasco expressed her willingness to pursue agriculture as her college course, citing the current state of the country’s coffee industry as a motivating factor.
“Nakikita ko po na lumiliit na ang bilang ng mga estudyante na kumukuha ng [I can see that fewer students are taking up] agriculture,” Subasco shared during the media briefing.
She firmly believes that the agricultural industry holds immense potential and offers a multitude of benefits.
Subasco lamented, in Filipino “Some people don’t appreciate the importance of, and our country’s need, for agriculture.”
Meanwhile, DA Administrative Aide IV An Cristie Tangcalagan, a former student of agriculture, expressed her strong belief that “Maybe you think that we are giving up agriculture, but no, we are still here and we are fighting for it.”
Call to action
IN a recent news briefing at the Bukidnon Integrated Coffee Center, NESCAFE Ph launches “Kape’t-Bisig Sa Pagbangon” campaign, a movement aims at raising awareness and rallying Filipinos to support their local coffee farmers and secure a prosperous future for the generations to come.
“We will ask everybody to raise awareness to talk about the current landscape of the coffee industry,” said Nescafe Classic Assistant Brand Manager Igi Natanuan.
This campaign goes beyond traditional charitable efforts, combining online engagement and educational empowerment in a remarkable way.
In a pioneering move, the company introduces the “Kape’t-Bisig Sa Pagbangon Online Challenge” on TikTok, the first-ever brand challenge in the Philippines with a cause.
This challenge invites everyone to participate by creating TikTok content—be it singing or dancing—using the iconic “Bangon” music, as a tribute to the hardworking Filipino coffee farmers.
“We must take on the challenge, we must inspire the youth,” Natanuan added. “There’s hope that they can do something in improving the coffee agricultural landscape here in the Philippines.”
The online challenge harnesses the power of social media to amplify the message of supporting local coffee farming.
Through the catchy tunes and captivating dance moves, participants can spread awareness and inspire others to join the cause.
Natanuan emphasized that there is no tangible incentive to the participants, but “the incentive that they will get is the help and the awareness they will raise from the challenge that they did.”
As highlighted by Natanuan, it’s not just about coffee; it’s about fostering unity and camaraderie among Filipinos for a brighter future.
Investing in education
AS an integral part of this initiative, NESCAFE Ph is committed to investing in the future of the agricultural industry by providing educational grants to the top three agricultural universities in Mindanao: Central Mindanao University, Sultan Kudarat State University, and University of Southern Mindanao.
“They are a beacon of hope, they are teaching agriculture,” Nescafe Classic Assistant Brand Manager Igi Natanuan stated the reason why they choose these institutions.
This investment will benefit 400 Junior and Senior High School students who are the children of coffee farmers.
“They are our future coffee farmers,” Natanuan said, who could really level up farming in the country.
Through this initiative, P10 million will be allotted to this educational assistance. Each student grantee will receive a one-time grant of 25,000 pesos.
“We have a preference for students taking up agriculture,” according to Natanuan. The parents should be a member of the Nestle partnered cooperatives such as Sta. Catalina Multipurpose Cooperative and Lamac Multipurpose Cooperative.
Nescafe believes this financial assistance will not only support the educational aspirations of these young individuals but also emphasize the importance of the agricultural sector in the Philippines today and in the future.
“We’re working together to achieve our goal and objectives for the coffee industry not only in Northern Mindanao,” said the DA’s RTDO Madriaga.
Tiedra firmly stands by the idea that agripreneurship holds “substantial opportunities,” and sees it as a crucial pathway for empowering the younger generation.
He added that farming, particularly in the case of coffee cultivation, transcends the traditional notion of agriculture, presenting a dynamic business opportunity.
To support this vision, he highlighted the importance of imparting fundamental entrepreneurial skills, along with sound business and marketing knowledge, to farmers through specialized training programs the multinational food and beverages company provides.
Coffee Farmers can boost their income if they apply “good agricultural practices with the right interventions,” Tiedra said.
Image credits: Contributed photo