A Week in the Philippines with the Philippine Coffee Board:

An Interview with our Operations Director Lisa Conway

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Photo: PCBi and CQI signing an In-Country Partner agreement with Operations Director Lisa Conway (second from left, first row). PCBi will be cooperating with CQI on all Q Grader education, including certifying Q Coffees). 

Coffee is a “priority crop” in the Philippines, but coffee families still need access to training. ACDI/VOCA is working on doing just that, with the support of CQI’s quality improvement strategies. Nine of the country’s ten poorest provinces are in Mindanao, and the food insecurity rate in the country is over 30%, so technical assistance and access to credit will enable value chain development and post-harvest improvements, among other things, ultimately leading to higher incomes earned from the crop. CQI hopes to make a positive impact for the island and put the Philippines on the map as a desirable origin for specialty coffee. Through Mindanao Productivity for Agricultural Commerce and Trade (MinPACT), CQI is working on a platform to build capacity, leading to agronomic and processing improvements and higher quality coffee for domestic and international trade.

1) What was your first impression of the Philippines?
I was impressed with how fast-paced it was: full of energy and commerce. The state universities and colleges are really motivated to have coffee be a significant part their curriculum, and their capacity to facilitate change is huge. The technology, infrastructure (social, academic and technological) and excitement are there. Also, Filipinos love coffee - everyone was drinking coffee!

2) Are there coffee shops everywhere? What’s the coffee culture like?
IMG_9756There are lots of shops in Manila and Davao. The specialty segment is growing but there’s also a lot of large, well-known shops there too, including UCC, Starbucks, and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: they’re all over. I was treated to a few cafe tours in Manila, including Commune Coffee, Habitual, and Curator. Just like the arabica coffee is prevalent in the U.S., they produce another species, liberica, referred to locally as Barako (particularly grown in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite). They’re proud of this coffee and it’s sold in nearly all the stores. It's a very popular local beverage.

I tried lots of different coffees and was proudly served coffee everywhere I went. There’s so much going on in terms of roasting and development, and there is so much potential to tap into the international market (they currently import more coffee than is exported).

3) What were you most surprised to discover when you were there?
How omnipresent other coffee species (liberica, excelsa) are in the country: it’s an important part of farmer incomes. Benguet is a beautiful province with a perfect climate and altitude for coffee: there seems to be massive potential in this region. Mindanao, considered the breadbasket of this island nation, has several excellent arabica production regions and has high potential for quality improvement and production expansion. The desire for coffee to become part of the national agenda and potential to produce lots of good, high quality there. I look forward to continuing our relationship with the producers and partners in the area. Producers want to know how to produce high quality coffee and how to ensure a return on investment and labor.

IMG_0052I was really interested in what is going on with coffee in the extremely conflicted region of Mindanao, known as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Princess Kumalah Sug-Elardo has organized a cooperative there, The People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PAP-MPC). Founded in 2009, it began with minimal capital but now counts roughly P15 million in assets: about 1,000% growth. Princess has been working with the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBi) and other groups to improve quality over the years, and has recently assumed a leadership role on their board. She’s been attending CQI’s cupper training classes too. This coop venture has drastically improve income by focusing on improving quality, partnering with agencies and foundations, and conducting training. The community has been so successful that people are no longer desperate to join the rebels for easy money. “They traded their firearms for coffee,” as Princess proudly declares.

Photo: Princess Kumalah Sug-Elardo with Lisa Conway

4) What are people most focused on in terms of supply chain development?

They’re very focused on how to grow their coffee better, increase productivity, renovate older planting, improve processing methods and how to understand (and talk about) the quality of that coffee. They are keen to become cuppers and Q Arabica and Robusta Graders.

5) What do our partners seem to be most excited about?
IMG_5937I think they’re most excited about taking a place at the table of specialty coffee and having a well known, desirable coffee regions : they want to get on the map. They’re excited to have specialty coffee buyers taste their coffees as well as a systemic approach to discovering regional specialty arabicas and fine robustas. With the leadership of the PCBI, I think they will quickly establish a regional cup profile program, getting high quality varietals and plant materials into the hands of farmers. They’re looking forward to hosting cupping competitions and other high profile events that draw international buyers and attention to their beautiful country.

Photo clockwise from left: Rosario Juan, Ted Lingle, Pacita Juan, Jorge Mendoza Judan, Lisa Conway, and Thelonious Trimmell

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