Overcoming Challenges to Success: The Future of Mt. Apo

The Coffee Quality Institute’s Mario Fernández, Ted Lingle, and Joel Shuler visited the Philippines last month to attend PCBi’s 9th National Coffee Summit in Davao City. In addition, they paid visits to local coffee growing areas, including one that has potential for future greatness, Mt. Apo. This trip to Mt. Apo left the team feeling excited about the potential of coffee growing and reforestation on the local treasure. Unfortunately, the leadership and land ownership on Mt. Apo is more complicated than your average coffee growing region. Joel Shuler commented, “The potential here is enormous, but so are the obstacles.”

Potential obstacles:

Much of the land is state owned and is being illegally occupied. It was stated that much of this is being done by the Indigenous Peoples. One solution might be to grant leases if certain conditions are met, including reforestation. This would provide an impetus to coffee planting, though it would obviously require large government intervention and planning. Which brings up the next issue, it seems that if any technical support were provided, it would have to go through the local village leaders. There’s also the moisture issue, the climate is too humid to do outdoor drying and there is only one lone rice mill which wouldn’t work for drying coffee. Humidity is a common issue in places such as western Colombia, eastern Mexico and Central America where coffee thrives so this isn’t an issue CQI hasn’t seen before. The beans grown here are mostly catimor but as we can see with Yunnan, China as an example, catimor can go gourmet and there is a large market available for it.

Why this project would be awesome:

Mt. Apo has proper altitude and climate for potentially producing high quality coffee. There has been massive deforestation to the area and coffee could be a lucrative means of reforestation. Reforesting a national treasure while creating a prestigious coffee region and job creation for Indigenous People (and others) could be a prestigious "win" for Sonny Dizon and President Duterte. If they buy in, then that could likely mobilize substantial resources to overcome the many obstacles. There is massive opportunity here for coffee to quickly come in and dominate since the opportunity cost of planting coffee is currently low, and assuming grower support can be provided, that will provide an edge over other crops.

Potential Route to Success:

joel_quoteMany steps would have to be taken to get this project running. Luckily, CQI has over 20 years of experience doing just that. In the early stages of such project, initial metrics would need to be measured (deforestation, current production, current productivity, number of growers, etc.). Next would come the establishment of a Mt. Apo Coffee Association to provide a voice to the growers, a place for grower/buyer interaction, as well as a place to market the region. Once this group is formed, a "model farm" and nursery that serves as a point of reference for agriculture practices as well as a nursery for coffee and shade plant seedlings would need to be constructed. If all goes well here, it’d be time to hire a full-time agronomist to work with growers and village leaders to plant fields and update agricultural practices such as fertilization and post-harvest processing. Finally, Mt. Apo would need a proper coffee drying facility where beans could be dried and stored.

This may seem like a lot, but as long as land ownership, politics and infrastructure aren’t causing a headache, you could see Mt. Apo reforested with coffee as far as the eye can see.

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