FOR 35-year-old Joel Saluda, both home and haven are found in the coffee-scented mountains of Barangay Cabancalan, a 14-kilometer drive from the Municipal Hall of Tuburan in northwest Cebu.
Like most of his neighbors, Saluda left the provincial life in exchange for the greener pastures the city promised.
“We were corn farmers. The crops were not really of much help. As much as we wanted to stay, we had to go to the city to feed our families,” he told SunStar Cebu in Cebuano.
For many years, the young father of three toiled day in and out, with hopes of one day returning home and staying there for good.
It was in 2012 when Saluda found himself treading a path back to the mountains and later on, supervising the coffee bean demonstration farm in Cabancalan spearheaded by Mayor Democrito Diamante Jr.
Diamante, who first learned of the benefits of growing a coffee plantation during a visit in Luzon, became interested in having one in his town.
With the help of a private nutrition institution and the national government, the locals were soon trained on how to properly grow the 30,000 robusta beans the mayor bought with his own funds from Tagum City in Davao del Norte.
He then provided each of the 16 mountain barangays with 50 hectares of land for the locals to grow their own coffee farms in their communities.
Grown in Cebu
“For a man who also spent his youth in the mountains of Cabancalan, my vision is to have no more poor families in Tuburan,” Diamante said.
Word of the project soon spread among entrepreneurs, both local and foreign.
Cebuano businessman Glenn Anthony Soco recently announced that he is making the homegrown coffee beans available in all of his 50 Coffee Dream outlets nationwide.
He said that aside from boosting the brand’s image by supporting local produce, it’s a way of patronizing the Cebu-grown robusta beans and to help the farmers market their goods outside the countryside.
Aside from Soco, Diamante said that a Japanese investor offered to buy the whole demo farm, but he turned down the offer, staying true to his vision of providing the locals with a sustainable livelihood.
But growing the plant in a town that suffers most during the dry season was no walk in the park.
Saluda lamented that the demo farm alone had just recovered from a spell of El Niño that the town experienced in 2013.
With the dry season around the corner, he admitted growing concern over how this year’s heat may affect their plants.
Despite this, he remains positive that for as long as the plant grows beans, he and the 900 other locals working on their community farms will no longer have to leave home.
As farm supervisor, Saluda earns P110 a day, while the 58 regular farmers of the demo farm have a daily salary of P100.
“It’s not much, but it’s better than working in a city full of strangers,” he said.
While the sales and marketability of their coffee may have yet to reach its full potential, he believes that with consumers becoming more welcoming of homegrown products, they will soon be better off.
He hopes that more people will be interested in visiting their farm, which is free of charge, to not only take a sip of their freshly brewed robusta beans, but to help support local produce. They sell the coffee at 150 per 150-gram pack.
Saluda said 10 percent of the farm’s profit goes to the People’s Cooperative established in every village. The remaining 90 percent covers farm expenses, like workers’ salary and fertilizers, among others.
“Coffee can continue to produce beans for up to 80 years. If we work really hard today, our children will be able to continue our work if they so wish,” Saluda said.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on March 25, 2017.
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