Coping with challenges in Sagada’s coffee industry
“Sabali ti kape tatta, babassit.” (Coffee trees nowadays are different, they are small.)
Farmer Lee Banyaga explains some of the challenges he now faces.
Banyaga is among the coffee farmers in the northern barangays of Sagada, Mountain Province who have seen a decline of their produce in recent years.
Towering pine trees, low-lying clouds, and the perfect “sweater weather” might explain the love for coffee in this tourist town.
Traditionally, coffee cultivation here is mainly for family consumption.
The first growers of Sagada Coffee for the market were in barangay Fidelisan.
“For us who were born here in Sagada, we grew up hearing about Fidelisan Coffee,” recalled Sagada Mayor James Pooten Jr.
In 2017, Sagada local producer Sibayan’s Coffee was recognized as one of the best coffees in the world during the International Contest of Coffees Roasted in their Countries of Origin hosted by the Agence Pour la Valorisation des ProduitsAgricoles in France.
As Sagada rose to become one of the tourist havens in the country, the demand for its coffee also grew.
Coffee plantations became widespread in the town as the locals appreciated the opportunity for additional income.
“Since there are more visitors or more people consuming coffee, the coffee plantations were revisited,” said Pooten.
But unlike its fast-growing tourism industry, Sagada’s coffee production has struggled over the years.
Different factors have affected the coffee industry even in some of the northern barangays where coffee was originally grown.
“When we were younger, I remember they don’t really plant the coffee but these days you really have to cultivate the seedlings so they can grow,” shared Baniaga. , a coffee grower in Barangay Madongo.
Aside from the challenge of growing coffee, farmers also saw a decline in their harvest leading some growers to shift their focus on cash-crops like cabbage and pepper.
“Before, coffee was more abundant. Coffee dealers from Bontoc and Bila (Bauko) came to buy our produce then but coffee production has now declined, even stopped,” Andrew Tumeg, another coffee grower from Barangay Bangaan, said.
In 2017, the Coffee Heritage Project, a movement to uplift Philippine coffee production, started to hold annual coffee tree planting activities to help local farmers revive their coffee plantations.
“Coffee Heritage Project (CHP) is about preserving our coffee tradition and a way to achieve this goal is by making people aware and relive our coffee culture,” said Rich Watanabe, head of the CHP.
Unlike other tree planting activities, the group has come up with different ways to help farmers in terms of monitoring and maintening their coffee plants.
Soil scientist and agriculturist Ana Abasolo shared that the group has community organizers and agriculturists who can provide farmers technical support particularly in the application of fertilizers and pest and disease management.
With the experts are the farm hands who are currently helping 30 coffee farmers in terms of labor such as weeding, clearing, and preparing compost.
“Our effort to help coffee growers is also supported by research. Planting and growing coffee now face many challenges like natural factors including very high temperature and frequent rains. And to support our coffee growers in maintaining their crops, it is better that we anchor this on science,” added Abasolo. **JDP/JJPM-PIA CAR