BY MYLES DELFIN
Nescafé has a plan, and they’re working on it in Mindanao. The plan that Nescafé is working on has nothing to do with big business or global marketing campaigns, in the traditional sense. Instead, it involves individual coffee farmers who grow the beans where your favorite Nescafé beverage comes from. The plan is called “Beyond the cup, The Nescafé Plan,” and in the Philippines, ground zero is the Nescafé Experimental Demo Farm (NEDF) in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte. Nescafé recently flew us all the way to Davao to show us what “The Plan” is all about.
Signage on the road to the Nestle facility where free workshops are conducted for coffee farming and production.
(Day 1 in Davao)
Mindanao is in the southern end of the Philippine archipelago, it is also about 600 miles closer to the equator than the City of Manila. I’m not sure if it’s by that fact alone that the first thing I noticed when I arrived was how much brighter the sun was shining over Davao City. Of course, having so much sunlight is never bad for an area where the business of growing things is the biggest contributor to the local economy. Davao Del Norte is the Philippines’ leading producer of bananas and home to many plantations run by both local and multinational companies. In addition, the countryside around Davao City serves as one of Mindanao Island’s main source of rice, cacao and coffee, among many other agricultural products.
While bananas might thrive in the withering heat of the equator, people do not. We wither, for lack of a better term for it, whenever the sun turns every bit of moisture into dust. It was one of those days when the sun just seems to be burning a little hotter than usual, walking across the parking lot outside the airport terminal felt like strolling through a griddle. Fortunately, we were quickly bundled into an air-conditioned van and were soon hurtling down a four-lane highway headed northward towards Tagum City.
We were in Mindanao to meet the agriculturists who work on turning the Nescafe Plan into reality. On our way, we sat in a van that was weaving in and out of traffic. The man behind the wheel was a picture of Jedi calm even as we careened out of the way of a container van that had unexpectedly turned into our lane. I’m also almost certain that the distance we traveled was much greater than how it felt, and we were soon heading up the driveway of a shiny new hotel building in Tagum City, in no time at all. It was almost lunch when our plane landed in Davao and we arrived at the hotel just in time for a big plate of Lemon Chicken and a spicy pork dish, and it was also time for coffee, of course.
We were scheduled to meet with Mon Parreno, the assistant manager of the Nestlé Experimental Demo Farm (NEDF) in Tagum City. Although, in spite of the name of the facility we were going to, I think it is important to point out that there is nothing experimental about what Nescafé is doing in Mindanao, at least, not in a “mad scientist” and “maniacal laughter” kind of way. In fact, I think Mon Parreno doesn’t actually laugh that much, he just smiles a lot whenever he talks about the positive impact that Nescafé is making in the lives of coffee farmers in the Philippines. As it turns out, the Nescafé Plan is a global initiative launched by Nescafé in 2010 to help develop the coffee farming industry.
Coffee Farm in Davao
A lot of big words coming from a big company, so let’s take that one step at a time. The Nescafé Plan is all about creating shared value, Mon Parreno explains, a concept rooted in the idea of responsible coffee farming, production, and consumption. For those of us who aren’t into farming and agriculture, this might be the part where we automatically skip reading. Although, I think it’s important to know these things as well, especially when you find out that 70% of the coffee that Filipinos drink everyday is not even from the Philippines.
Nestle personnel give a coffee production workshop to local coffee farmers about how to maximize their farms’ potential.
We could easily miss the value of this statistic and simply carry on and sip coffee like we didn’t care, but we should. 70% of anything is a large amount to buy from outside the country, even more so when we consider the amount of coffee that Filipinos consume between breakfast and bedtime, everyday. Buying all that coffee from outside the country means that there is less that goes into the national economy and for all the things that can make Filipino lives easier. And it’s all just because Filipino coffee farmers do not have the ability to reap the maximum potential of their farms.
In the Philippines, Nescafé goes right to the root of the problem. The NEDF in Tagum City is one of the places where Nescafe addresses the need for farm education, training and “excellent planting material.” No, it’s not something that the movie characters Bill and Ted would say to farmer-type-dudes. Instead, Excellent planting material simply translates to “true-to-type” coffee plants like the Robusta coffee that are planted in NEDF, pure Robusta coffee plants that are untainted by other coffee types. This is important because Robusta is one of the most disease-resistant types of coffee and the most prolific in the Philippines, hence the preferred type of coffee by Filipinos.
Late afternoon sun casting shadows on the coffee nurseries of the Nestle Experimental Demo Farm in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte, Philippines.
The coffee plants in NEDF are guaranteed to be pure planting material because they come from only one source in Tours, France. It sounds like too much trouble to transport coffee plants from halfway around the world, but Nescafé discovered that it is a necessary process to preserve the qualities that are required for every cup of coffee that carry their name. The original plants that come from France are propagated “asexually” in NEDF, which doesn’t mean anything more controversial than a simple process of “cutting and grafting.” I could go into a lengthy explanation of this process, but as not a lot of people are looking for a career change from punching keyboards to digging irrigation and plucking berries, let’s just leave it at that.
Window to a view of the coffee nurseries of the Nestle Experimental Demo Farm in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte, Philippines.
Besides, I think Mon Parreno and his fellow agriculturist Enteng Magat, both working at the NEDF, can do a better job of explaining how it works. After all, in addition to helping fix the Saludares school building in Magdum, they’ve also managed to find the time to get Tagum City officials to include the Nestlé Farm in the local tourism map. Now, anyone can drop by the NEDF and learn from Mon and Enteng about how coffee is grown and also get the chance to plant coffee. Some would say that coffee farming doesn’t sound too exciting, and they would probably be right. Except perhaps that you’ll be planting coffee right in the heart of Mindanao, one of the last few places in the Philippines where coffee and genuine adventure goes hand in hand.
Myles Anthony Delfin Tagum City, Davao Del Norte, Philippines 2013