IT may not be common knowledge that the Arabica variety of coffee only grows well at elevations higher than 900 meters, just like in Brazil. We do not have 900 meters elevation for coffee but we have 1,500 meters or 5,000 feet and that is in Benguet in the North. There lives an expert for this coffee variety, professor Val Macanes of Benguet State University (BSU).
Prof. Val handles the Institute for Highland Farming Systems and Agroforestry (IHFSA) in Bektey, Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet, a 50-hectare campus laboratory for Arabica coffee, bamboo, an apiary and even Philippine pigs.
Prof. Val has been our mentor in Arabica coffee growing and propagation for many years now. Back in 2005, we already planted Arabica coffee trees in the IHFSA compound and again with Philippine Coffee Board in 2010. It is a joy seeing the trees now so lush and fruit-bearing. We actually were able to pick coffee cherries or fruits from the trees we planted few years ago. That really brings one full circle in the coffee farming side of the value chain.
But Prof. Val is not just a face in the BSU campus. He travels all over the Cordillera to teach farmers how to plant and rejuvenate their coffee trees. It is a testimonial to hear farmers from five hours away in Kibungan, Benguet speak only nice words about him and his expertise. “We were trained by Professor Val of BSU,” a woman farmer intimated to us. “He stayed in our community for three days to make sure we understood what coffee farming means,” she continued. Now, that is service. Some trainors may find it difficult travelling for days in the mountains to preach about our campaigns in unfamiliar territory but not Prof. Val. He goes just about anywhere where farmers are willing to listen.
Further, he ensures we have enough coffee seedlings to plant. He always has planting materials in stock at the BSU IHFSA campus.
When it is harvest time, he indulges us as we happily pick the red ripe fruits from the many different Arabica “cultivars” or sub species like San Ramon, Mondo Novo, Bourbon and Typica. He’s got them all. Granica, which I have not seen in other Arabica areas, also grows aplenty in his farm forest laboratory.
Many years ago we even got him his certification as an organic farmer and he complied with all the requirements of the certifiers. He’s got a gem in this coffee farm and does not stop inspiring more farmers to come and plant coffee.
What does he want to still accomplish? We have to write his book on coffee, a project we thought about many years ago—Cordillera Coffee, Arabica in the Philippines—and the story gets more interesting year after year.
Thank you Professor Val. Because of you, many farmers in Benguet still plant coffee. Because of you many people are inspired to develop the coffee industry in the Cordillera. Because of you we have a coffee collection safely kept in the university.
Carry on, Professor. Until every farmer knows how to plant Arabica coffee in the country, our work is never done.
Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City, Antipolo and Iloilo City. She also is President 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