DA-PRDP explores specialty coffee processing in Kalinga
Specialty coffee may soon be produced by Kalinga farmers as the Department of Agriculture’s Philippine Rural Development Project (DA-PRDP) explores with the Hong Kong-based Hummingfish Foundation an engagement to assist the Kalinga Coffee Cluster (KCC) in this line of coffee processing and marketing.
The foundation’s founder and CEO, Daniel Groshong, recently visited the province with consultants of the DA-PRDP and members of the KCC to conduct an initial assessment of the group’s potential in producing specialty coffee. Groshong shared his experience in assisting a group of farmers in then war-torn Timor Leste produce specialty Arabica coffee.
According to Groshong, specialty coffee is different from the mainstream coffee as it has complex and unique aroma and taste. The “character” of specialty coffee results from the the type of climate and soil in which the trees are grown, as well as the processing methods used.
The KCC has an approved P14.8-million subproject under the PRDP’s enterprise development component but the business model only covers production, pre-processing and consolidation of green coffee beans, the industry name for raw, unroasted coffee.
While processing of green beans is not covered under the PRDP subproject, this has been identified as a sustainability mechanism for the enterprise in its business plan.
“While we support the proponent groups in strengthening their green coffee bean trading—the core of their business—we also want to proactively prepare them in making their enterprise more profitable and sustainable,” Arnel de Mesa, PRDP’s national deputy project director said.
Similarly, Groshong stressed that the KCC farmers should grab opportunities that are beyond green beans trading, considering realities of the market.
“With the current market demand for coffee, including processed beans, the KCC may no longer purely depend on green beans [trading],” he said.
Groshong shared that their project in Timor Leste started small from 1 farmer in 2011 to 350 farmers in 2017. Over time, the price of their processed coffee—now branded as Maubere Mountain Coffee—has increased from mere $1 per kilogram to $100 per kilogram as they produce and sold specialty coffee to high-end cafes and restaurants in the country and abroad. Compared with the KCC farmers, the group currently sell their roasted, ground beans at about $6 (P300) per kilogram to domestic buyers.
During his stay in Kalinga, the photojournalist-turned- nonprofit worker visited coffee plantations and facilitated actual cupping with the member cooperatives and associations of the KCC.
“I have seen some potential. I could see that we can create interesting coffee with [distinct] characteristic. Some of the cups we’ve made are quite interesting,” Groshong said during the wrap-up meeting with the farmers and representatives from the PRDP and the Kalinga provincial local government unit.
Initial recommendations from the Hummingfish Foundation include the establishment of coffee cupping laboratory that complies with international standards.
The facility will be used in the succeeding rounds of cupping to identify the group’s progress in improving their production and processing methods, and to narrow down on which methods, especially roasting, produce the best coffee drink.
Professional cuppers will be invited to provide competent recommendations. These cuppers also know the market very well so they may be able to match the products to markets. Groshong emphasized that producing specialty coffee requires matching the requirements of potential markets.
The foundation will also help the group in developing a brand and crafting a brand story, highlighting their community and marking an identity for the province.
He also emphasized that the farmers should continue experimenting which is the best way to process coffee, including, among others, the best roasting temperatures and duration.
“You should also start developing a better understanding of your coffee, like tasting cherries from every tree and identifying which trees produce the sweetest fruits,” Groshong suggested.
Groshong stressed, however, that producing specialty coffee starts from the proper management of coffee trees.
With this, the PRDP will provide a training for farmers who can commit to implementing better plantation management practices and having their plantations become model farms.
The PRDP will start designing a modular training program, which will be a mix of classroom and hands-on sessions synced with actual farm activities.
The provincial agriculturist already pledged to provide the training venue and accommodation for the participants. A coffee specialist from the Kalinga State University will also be tapped.
Groshong noted that compared with the community in Timor Leste, there is a stronger institutional support for the coffee industry in Kalinga, hence, the KCC should maximize this.
Besides the enterprise development assistance from the PRDP, 28 kilometers of farm-to-market roads worth P327 million are now being built as complementing infrastructure support to the province’s coffee industry.
“It is timely that the PRDP is here. I hope that the farmers (who have converted to corn farming) will be encouraged to go back to coffee,” Kalinga Governor Jocel Baac said during a brief meeting with Groshong at the opening ceremonies of the province’s Bodong Festival trade fair. ### (Jan P. Dacumos, DA-PRDP NPCO InfoACE Unit)