Tuesday, May 24, 2016

DA lures Bicol farmers into coffee, cacao production

PILI, Camarines Sur, May 22 (PNA) -- The regional office for Bicol here of the Department of the Agriculture (DA) has trained farmers, nursery operators and farm extension workers on propagation of coffee and cacao.

The two-day training course on “Nursery Establishment, Management and Propagation Techniques of Selected Fruit Crops” recently conducted in Nabua, Camarines Sur was focused on the two high-value fruit crops in an effort to lure the participants into their commercial production.

Attended by 58 extension workers, farmers and nursery owners selected from the six provinces of Bicol, the training was able to enhance their knowledge and skills in nursery establishment and management as they were oriented on rootstock technology -- particularly budding, grafting and other plant propagation techniques, Rosita Imperial, DA’s regional supervising science research specialist, on Saturday said.

Participants were able to familiarize themselves with propagation tools and techniques of selected fruit crops in different regions and enhance skills and knowledge on the best practices of asexual plant propagation, she said.

Coffee and cacao are among the high-value crops being promoted for development in the region owing to enormous market demand and high export potential, Imperial said.

The DA-Bicol, she said, is currently working on the expansion of these two crops plantations all over the region under the agency’s Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP), an intervention falling under the application of the High-Value Crops Development Act of 1995 which allots funds for providing production assistance, technology transfer, marketing and processing that now steer farmers towards generating more income.

In HVCDP whose implementation has been intensified in the region since about four years ago, assistance to producers concerning crop insurance, credit, post-harvest facilities, good seeds and planting materials and fiscal incentives are also provided.

Commercial production of coffee beans, according to Imperial, should be expanded so that its benefits in terms of financial returns that local farmers could reap from the growing demand in the country and abroad of this high-value crop is maximized.

About three decades ago, the Philippines was fourth largest coffee-producing nation and noted as among the few countries in the world where leading coffee varieties like robusta, excelsa and liberica exist.

Through the years, however, coffee plantations in the country decreased from 149,657 hectares to 138,830, putting the domestic production down to only 0.12 percent of the world’s coffee output and making the Philippines now a net importer as total demand reaches 70,350 metric tons (MT) while local production is only 47,838 MT.

Imperial said the country’s latest yearly coffee importation is 22,500 MT valued at Php6.72 billion and out of the 88,526-MT coffee production of the Philippines in 2011, Bicol was able to contribute only 327 MT.

Sorsogon is Bicol’s top producer of coffee with its 171 MT, followed by Albay, 103.66 MT; Camarines Sur, 26.54 MT; Camarines Norte, 22.93 MT; and Catanduanes, 1.99 MT.

“We need to enable local farmers to turn to this high-value crop and eventually void of the need to import coffee beans, such as from Indonesia and Vietnam, to meet the local demand,” Imperial said.

There have been various training sessions conducted by the DA on nursery management for coffee seedlings of robusta variety, described as a sturdy species of coffee bean with low acidity and high bitterness and used primarily in instant coffee, espresso and as a filler in ground coffee blends.

Robusta, Imperial said, is easy to care for, has a greater crop yield than arabica coffee, has almost double the amount of caffeine, more antioxidants than arabica coffea and is less susceptible to disease.

Roasted robusta beans, she said, produce a strong, full-bodied coffee with a distinctive earthy flavor, but usually with more bitterness than arabica due to its pyrazine content.

Approximately 30 percent of the coffee produced in the world is robusta and in recent years, Vietnam, which produces mostly this variety, has surpassed Brazil, India, and Indonesia to become its world's single largest exporter.

Studies show that robusta coffee is used as a stimulant, diuretic, antioxidant, antipyretic and relieves spasmodic asthma.

Cacao, which that grows well in the region owing to its tropical climate, meanwhile, has a big potential due to global consumption and demand for chocolates.

In 2020, a global scarcity of cacao beans is being anticipated and the DA is preparing Bicolano farmers to this scenario that would benefit them should they participate in large-scale production being promoted by the agency under the HVCDP in partnership with the Philippine Coconut Authority that provides technologies in cacao intercropping with coconut and pili.

So far, enthusiasm on cacao growing has been spreading like wildfire in Bicol since the program started about three years ago a campaign towards grooming cacao beans as another sunshine industry of the region by way of promoting this high-value crop’s significance both in terms of economic and health gains.

Imperial, who is also the regional HVCDP focal person, said she is optimistic that with the help of local government units in the region, the program can attain its targets for 2016 which include an addition of 850 hectares for cacao and 75 hectares for coffee, in the province of Camarines Sur alone.(PNA) BNB/FGS/DOC/CBD/pjn