Coffee is mainly grown in Mindanao with the island producing some 71 percent of the country’s total production volume. Sultan Kudarat is Mindanao’s number one source of coffee, having 15,500 hectares devoted to production of the crop, followed by Bukidnon with 7,200 hectares and Lanao del Sur with 6,500 hectares.
The municipality of Kulaman (now named Senator Ninoy Aquino) in Sultan Kudarat is also considered an important player in the subsector, having about 3,000 small coffee farmers maintaining around 3,250 hectares of production area. Attention is supposedly being extended to the crop as a priority for the local government unit’s (LGU) One Town, One Product program but subsector development is still not in the horizon.
The Municipal Planning and Development Office (MPDO) availed of PhP500,000 from the World Bank-funded Mindanao Rural Development Program of the Department of Agriculture for the setting up of nurseries for high-yielding coffee variety under a plant now, pay later scheme with the federation of Manobo organizations, the Manobo Tribal Consultative Body. The initiative has reportedly failed to take off due to lack of implementing guidelines in distribution, maintenance, and seed propagation.
A coffee board was also organized by the LGU, which should have representation from indigenous farmer producers, traders, and other value chain actors. However, the body has not been operational for lack of a coffee development plan in the municipality, according to an MPDO official.
Underdevelopment of the subsector clearly contributes to poverty among indigenous peoples producing coffee for their livelihood. Coffee is a primary income source for the Manobo in the municipality but lack of access to credit and low buying price are problems that beset them.
Formal financial institutions reportedly discriminate against Manobo borrowers. The Rural Bank of Kulaman, the only financing institution operating in the municipality, has not extended loan to any Manobo borrower since it began operating in 1985. Manobo farmers therefore rely only on informal sources like traders for financing coffee production. Land selling or leasing is therefore not uncommon.
Access to market information is another challenge for the Manobo producers. Only two processors exist in the province, both located in Kulaman, and they have direct access to updated buying price from Nestle Philippines. Manobo farmers reveal that often, they are forced to sell at half the market price, sometimes even less than the cost of production just to get the product moving. Trapped in this cycle, it is no wonder that they are forever neck deep in debt.
Collaboration among value chain actors is imperative to promoting sustainable development of the coffee subsector in Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat. Addressing resource-based conflicts, upholding democratic participation in the value chain system, gender and cultural sensitivity, respecting the rights of the child, youth, and elderly, and environmental protection will help make this a reality.
These in essence are the core of the subsector framework plan envisioned by multistakeholders gathered in March to discuss issues confronting the coffee industry in the municipality and to promote conflict transformation among the different value chain actors in the coffee subsector. The participants included leaders and members of the Manobo people’s organization in Kulaman, representatives from church groups, non-governmental organizations, and LGU.