Did you know that a coffee tree in Vietnam when consciously irrigated can use as much as 400 liters of water per year? That’s what we learned from coffee expert Dr. Dave D’Haeze at our recent meeting with the ASEAN Coffee Federation. However, that can be reduced to 250 liters of water and achieve the same results.
In the Philippines we do not irrigate coffee trees (as we just wait for rain), which of course causes trees to dry up and produce less yield. Our national average is 700 kilos per hectare compared to Vietnam that, with fertilization and irrigation, produces 3000 to 5000 kilos per hectare. But using up that much water causes ground water to also be depleted.
This climate change reality has brought Vietnam’s coffee stakeholders to conduct a water study in the era of climate change. It takes 60-100 days for ground water to replenish itself which then requires farmers to know that they should use less water and know which hotspots will dry up.
How about us? Who even knows the weather forecast for a certain area? Where are our hotspots?
With that, we encourage the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the new Department of Agriculture head to look into this study for the Philippines. It could be for rice and corn as well as coffee. We badly need a weather forecasting system to help our farmers address the effects of climate change.
In the subject of water, we always have to mention cows as well. Cows in hot weather require 200-250 liters of water a day. But more than the water they require, they also expel more methane gas into the atmosphere (that’s another environmental issue altogether). Lactating cows, I believe, need more water if they are to produce milk. No wonder vegans want us to eat less meat or not eat meat at all. Cows consume so much of the water which is getting scarce. And cows need clean water, not just any water available.
In Indonesia, the coffee farms are converted to oil palm farms, which actually is a controversial issue as oil palm only produces palm oil and does no other good to the soil. This is why Indonesia has lagged in coffee production, too. For us in the Philippines, it is the economics of coffee that drives investors to choose corn, rubber or palm. Of the three, corn is the only one we can eat.
We have good models of coffee intercropped with cash crops but this does well for smallholder farmers of two to three hectares. They can eat the other produce (banana, pineapple, vegetables) while waiting for the “gravy” which is coffee as coffee is harvested only once a year. Other investors want “monocropping” or planting coffee alone which requires a happy mix of elevation and good weather conditions, plus a clean culture in the farms.
In the meantime, climate change is upon us and our coffee areas. We badly need a weather forecasting system and we need to train all our farmers about scientific approaches to mitigating climate change. We cannot just accept that El Niño is here and La Niña is coming. We must proactively work on mitigating the effects or teaching our farmers what we can do to still produce coffee and still be able to milk cows and eat some meat.
After all, when we do not have coffee, what else do we drink? Water? But isn’t that also the resource so precious that we need to know how to save it?
Better yet, let’s all save rain water rather than use ground water which needs replenishing. Catching rain water may be the practice we must all do to water our plants and our coffee trees. Save the ground water so we can all still drink coffee and milk.
Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Salcedo Village, Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City, Iloilo and Antipolo City. She also is Chair of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org