The Palawan province is globally known for many things―magnificent beaches, abundant wildlife, and astonishing attractions―but not for its coffee.
This, however, did not stop local coffee connoisseurs to pursue “from crop to cup” production, determined to put the island province into the map of the coffee industry.
“People don’t know that there are coffee farms here that is why it is not being marketed properly,” said Carissa Olit, 27, co-owner of Scool, a small coffee shop right at the center of Puerto Princesa town proper.
Sourcing coffee beans locally, she said, would benefit the farmers in the long run.
“The problem is with the demand. If the farmers don’t see the potential value, they would opt to plant different crops. If they see its worth, it may encourage the others to plant coffee,” explained Olit, who has been in the coffee business for more than three years.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data in 2015, the entire MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan) region ranked only 13th out of the 16 regions in the Philippines when it comes to the number of coffee bearing trees per region.
In 2019, the Philippines only produced only 62,062 metric tons of green coffee beans, but consumed around 100,000 metric tons of coffee, importing nearly half of the demand from the United States, Japan, Brazil, and the European Union, based on 2020 report of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI), a private sector-led group initially formed as the National Coffee Development Board to improve coffee output.
Silvester Dan S. Samonte, 38, owner of LICK (Lost Islands Center for Kape) in El Nido town and 2016 Philippine National Barista Champion, has started a sustainable livelihood project for the indigenous people (IP) community of Tagbanuas in the village of Napsan, a coastal community in the northwest of Puerto Princesa, approximately 39 kilometers from the town proper.
He said that the soil and climate were good for coffee growing.
“We just started in Napsan to plan and work in their forest. This year we will be setting up different variations of the lowland fruit forest with the Tagbanua tribe through Byanyas. We will work hand in hand with the whole process from seed material to growing and processing. We are trying to design a sustainable livelihood that protects and enlivens the forest,” Samonte said.
He added that Palawan coffee beans are “very tasty” which makes it distinct compared to other coffee variants in the country.
“The lowland Robusta and Liberica [coffee beans] are tasty. I’ve tasted quite a few nice ones and all show so much promise to be very tasty. The soil and climate are good for coffee growing. [We] featured one coop last year, it sold out quickly. We hope to get more coffees from south Palawan this harvest,” Samonte added.
Further north of Puerto Princesa, in the village of Maoyon known for its wild river cruise rafting, hidden beneath the westernmost part of the river, stood Palay Farm, a family-run coffee farm that once supplied for a multi-national coffee company.
Their coffee beans, harvested from more than two hectares of land, were proudly single-origin coffee, or those that were grown within a single known geographic region.
About 40 minutes of a boat ride through the Maoyon river to reach the coffee farm, the farmers, mostly family relatives, harvest lowland Robusta coffee cherries and let the beans sun-dry before processing.
Robusta coffee cherries mature after 10 months, and the beans were processed traditionally using a “lusong”, a huge mortar and pestle made out of wood.
The unroasted coffee beans were usually sold at P250 per kilogram in some coffee shops in the city, where the roasting is being done.
Logistics is also a challenge, Olit said, as the processing takes place in several parts of the city.
In the southern Palawan town of Bataraza, Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC) a subsidiary of Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC), produced 1.7 tons of harvested coffee cherries during its October to March harvest.
The company supervised about 200 hectares of a coffee plantation in Bataraza town, wherein the largest area with 48 hectares was located in Sitio Racub in the village of Rio Tuba with more than 48,000 Liberica coffee trees.
Jose Roberto Serrato, landowner, and farmer, technical point man, and vice-chairperson of Sandoval Farmers Producers Cooperative (SANFAPCO), who also owns 4,000 coffee trees in a four-hectare land area in Brgy. Sandoval said that his products were purchased by RTN since he has no permanent buyer yet.
Serrato said that having a coffee plantation is beneficial on his part and has given a good effect on their livelihood. However, coffee trees like most plants also need much support and attention so they would grow and give better production.
“For now, it is tedious. But in the long term, farmers would see the benefit and realize that locally sourced coffee would improve their livelihood, the quality of their lives,” Olit added.