LAST month, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala urged farmers around Lake Lanao to plant fruit-bearing and coffee at the Lake Lanao Watershed Reservation.

This was during the Lake Lanao Watershed Summit themed: “Ranaw Watershed, the Lifeblood of Mindanao: Roadmap to Sheltering and Sustaining Life and Culture.”

He said farmers can intercrop the coffee with the fruit trees. He’s apparently pushing for what is referred to as commercial polyculture.

That’s okay. But it would have been a lot better had he encouraged revival of the forest with coffee as the main enticer to protect it considering that we are talking of Lake Lanao here and not just any water source.

Lake Lanao is not just any lake, it is a heritage, it is an identity; the very reason why the Maranas are named such. Now, with polyculture all around its watershed, expect agricultural runoffs.

It’s still a plantation even when intercropped. Lake Lanao deserves more in terms of care and in the people’s contribution to its sustained biodiversity.

Coffee for one is a natural forest undergrowth. While major investors have cleared tracts of land to hasten fruiting and harvest, the most preferred of which are those on high elevation like Lake Lanao since coffee beans grown in such places are supposed to taste better, monoculture and polyculture have been consistently known to wreak more havoc than benefits for the greater majority.

In any plantation, chemical inputs are required because by the simple act of clearing, the farmer or investor has already decimated if not desecrate the soil.

Lake Lanao deserves more than this. The better call should have been to enhance protection by encouraging residents to plant coffee within the forest, whether it be reforested or natural growth forest.

By growing coffee under the shade of the forests, both humans and the environment win.

For one: shade-grown coffee requires fewer chemical inputs as the forest already provides. Shade-grown coffee is also known to have a longer life span, and thus provide a sustained source of income while encouraging the communities to protect the forest that protects their coffee. Most of all, they are raising a higher quality coffee that can demand higher prices in the market.