Domoguen: The Cordillera cloud forest in my coffee cup (Conclusion of a 2-part series article)

Mountain Light

TABUK CITY, Kalinga -- In our previous article, we highlighted Ms. Michele Vargas’ observation on coffee grown under the shade having greater aroma than those grown under the sun.

Ms. Vargas is a staff of the Golden Berries Hotel. She is also procurer of green coffee beans that are processed by the hotel and sold under the brand name, “Kalinga Blend.”

Reacting to Ms. Vargas observation, former Benguet State University (BSU) Professor, Dr. Macario Cadatal, suggested: “Many researchable areas on the effect of location relative to land elevation, kind of soil, climatic conditions of the area, within the growing area like under trees of different species.”

He added an observation of his own, “I think the greatest effect of coffee growing is the preservation of the forest (specifically speaking of my tribe where "kaingin" is our way of life, there should be no more "slash and burn"("kaingin") type of agriculture because of the presence of coffee trees under the forest. Not only trees are conserved but also other forest species (plants and animals) and soil.

He agreed that coffee growing is good for the Cordillera.

Indeed, there are many reasons why coffee grown under the shade is best suited to the Cordillera, being the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon.

And yes, Ms. Vargas is not alone in asserting that “Watershed Coffee” has great flavor. Proponents of expensive gourmet coffee, particularly “Organic, Bird Friendly, and Fair Trade” coffee around the globe say that "coffee grown in the shade takes long to ripen and are often thought to taste better because the long ripening times contribute to complex flavors."

Studies conducted abroad reveal that “growing coffee under the shade discourages weed growth, may reduce pathogen infection, protect the crop from wind and rain, and helps to increase numbers of pollinators which results in better fruit set.”

In the Cordillera, we are clearing our forest for a myriad of uses. Not all mountain spaces should be utilized for housing, industrial uses, and monoculture farming. Our watersheds and some of our forest must be preserved.

Shade grown coffee brings us back to the nature of coffee before it became a highly traded cup of dark, bitter but heavenly morning experience. That benefit need not clear-cut rainforests, pollute the groundwater and cause significant reductions in biodiversity.

In the Cordillera, some indigenous farming like the “Imong” in upper Kalinga had the coffee plant grow as a crop that existed in harmony with its environment.

That kind of coffee must be traded too as "green" with a distinct labeling as “Cordillera Watershed Coffee,” a product that is not a monoculture and “cash-greedy” (commonplace in modern agriculture) but is a livelihood output that is environmentally responsible.

“Cordillera Watershed Coffee” would immediately bring images of rustic coffee farms compared to sun-grown monocrops and the nasty effects commonplace in modern agriculture to include weedicides and chemical fertilizers.

Under rustic coffee farms, all of the trees and diverse plants growing along with the coffee trees have roles to play in the growing process. The leaves they drop act as mulch, fortifying the soil and protecting it from weeds.

On mountainous slopes, the thick vegetation of rustic or shade-coffee farms helps protect coffee bushes from destructive insects. Monoculture growers have to use insecticides. And tree root systems prevent soil erosion. Monoculture farms are left unprotected from the erosive effects of wind and rain.

Imagine clearing all that land of indigenous plant life, along with the addition of all kinds of chemicals in farming and other human activities involving pieces and types of machinery up here. Over time, we do not only poison our river systems but also the sources of our drinking water.

I really like this bit of information from the Arbor Day Foundation that suggest how “drinking a single cup of shade coffee instead of sun coffee saves about 2.3 square feet (0.21 square meters) of the rainforest.” If you have to drink coffee, beware, do not gulp down the trees and biodiversity too.

Now here is a challenge. A reader in the USA says that Cordillera coffee (Arabica) is quality coffee. Many foreign buyers would gladly purchase the product, he said. The problem is “one of scale. How many tons can you sustain and make available on a monthly and yearly schedule?”

The Atokape Cooperative of Atok, Benguet, has been encountering that challenge for quite long.

The real challenge remains. We need to keep producing quality coffee free from ochratoxins, to sustain our needs, before we export.


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