Pierre Yves Cote: Dream of Baguio as Asia’s coffee hub

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Monday, December 30, 2013

WHEN French-Canadian Pierre Yves Cote arrived in the country, the rich aromatic brew of Philippine arabica coffee led the Montreal-based businessman to the mountains of the Cordillera to establish one of the country’s most admired coffee producer and exporter.

His friendly attitude and persistence in business, honed by over 10 years of experience in operating coffee related business and more than 20 years of experience in international business development, helped him endure many setbacks and challenges in doing commerce in the country.

But Cote shared the true source of his success in the Philippine coffee industry lies in the people he trusted in building Rocky Mountain Café Inc. (based in Canada and Philippines) and Rocky Mountain Arabica Coffee Company.

From hundreds of highland farmers coming from Ibaloi, Kankanaey, Talaandig, T’Boli tribes to the lowland Palaweños and Ilocanos, Rocky Mountain’s founder and president placed his trust in local farmer’s cooperatives to source out coffee beans now brewed in the finest hotels and restaurants in the country and exported to supermarket chains and groceries here and abroad.

“Our success lies in our people who plant the coffee trees and help us in processing,” he said.

In the heart of Baguio City, inside Camp John Hay, he plans to build Asia’s Next Coffee Hub – in a 60 hectare coffee plantation of more than 75,000 Arabica Typica, Bourbon and San Ramon varieties beneath the pine trees. He envisions it as a center for coffee eco-tourism where visitors could harvest, process, brew and taste the famed highland coffee.

“It’s more than the experience from smelling the aroma to tasting the coffee that we want to share,” he added.

But according to Cote, 60 hectares of land for a coffee plantation is small compared to thousands of hectares of coffee farms in other countries like South America or in Indonesia which is why he has been pushing for more areas for planting.

Rocky Mountain has farms and partnerships with local indigenous peoples in Sablan and Tuba in Benguet, Iloilo, Bukidnon, Nueva Viscaya,Davao, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani.

He recalled one day at Camp John Hay, while tending the coffee plantation which he describes as an agroforestry venture, he was approached by a man whom he later would know as Mayor Eduardo Guillen of Piddig, Ilocos Norte who offered him a 1,000 hectare upland property for arabica coffee propagation there.

Also recently, a visit to the Camp John Hay plantation also opened doors for Cote to meet Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez which opened up opportunities of planting thousands of robusta coffee trees in some 6,000 hectares in the country’s eco-tourism destination.

But all this, he said, is due to the success of the Camp John Hay plantation after coffee seedling planted two years ago are now slowly producing berries for harvest.

But more than the harvest, he is proud to note some 75,000 coffee trees planted inside Camp John Hay contribute something good to the city’s environment. The plants increases density of the lower canopy of the pine forest; induces water absorption by the aquifer; reduces soil erosion and flash floods; lowers the risk of forest fires; improve air quality and carbon absorption; and most importantly, provide more than 200 jobs for Baguio residents and other adjoining towns such as La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan and Tuba.

With a total investment of P40 million he believes this will expand more as RMC partnered with local cooperatives in their plantations in Tuba and Sablan as well as processing plants in Atok in Benguet.

Rocky Mountain Coffee also has a plantation and milling facility in Bektey, La Trinidad in partnership with Benguet State University.

He said the Cordillera region, given its high elevation, is blessed with new opportunities in coffee production making it an ideal hub for the Philippine coffee industry not only in the country but in Asia.

According to Cote, the country currently imports 90 percent of the coffee it consumes, some 118 million kilograms, in Vietnam and Indonesia which he said could have been produced in the country providing thousands of jobs to farmers and their families.

Within the next five years, with its ever expanding plantations and partnerships with the government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine Economic Zone Authority and Land Bank; private firms like Camp John Hay Development Corporation and the local communities, he said investments, will, at least, reduce imports by 50 percent in the next five years, creating thousands of jobs thus elevating the Philippines as a leading coffee producer as it was 40 years ago.

For now, he said he is glad the company he started more than a decade ago is now one of the leading distributors of Philippine coffee and currently boasts of supplying some 200 supermarkets and 150 hotels and restaurants nationwide and for export in the United States and Canada.

But he knew the dream of making Baguio City as the heart of the Philippine coffee industry does not stop there. He saw the billion peso industry to grow in the heart of the Summer Capital, banking on growing international and local demand for coffee.

The Cooperative Bank of Benguet and its CBB Corporation Foundation has both filed a multi-million collection suit against the entire officialdom of the Valley for nonpayment of loans to acquire the Japanese garbage technology.

The civil case filed by Cooperative Bank of Benguet involving P25 million the town owes still hangs.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 31, 2013.

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