Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When a Hilux can’t get you to the top or back down

Another busy day in northern Mindanao. Last night we stayed in Malaybalay in the Bukidnon province and today we ended up having four meetings. First stop was the municipal center where we talked with Romeo, the municipal administrator. Everyone thought we were either the Australians (who had a meeting later that day) or with the USDA. They were shocked that American college kids would have an interest in the area. He recalled back to the 60s and 70s when his municipality grew all kinds of coffee and he is happy to see the industry coming back with the renewed emphasis on the local farmers after the large multinationals made many inroads with pineapple and bananas. On the way out, we ran into the mayor who was glad to have us there as well and informed us to check in with the police chief (the military was running an operation in the highlands and wanted us to stay away).

The second stop was across the courtyard to the Ag office where we talked with a technician responsible for a zone above 1000m--prime Arabica land and a non-cluster farmer. We learned so much from their different perspectives on the difficulties getting farmers to grow coffee, mono-cropping, the influence of traders, and some of the hesitations of entering into clusters/co-ops especially among smaller farmers.

Our third stop was up to a CRS cluster and this was another great insight into some of the benefits of a cluster. Getting there wasn’t easy--we had to get out of our Pajero because it couldn’t get up the hill, so we jumped in the bed of a Hilux. That even had trouble sliding around on the slick red clay. At the top, we talked to two cluster leaders and several of the members. Since joining the cluster, they’ve improved their yield and the ability to sell it to Nestle at mostly grade 1 and some grade 2. That has meant a significant increase in revenue for them since they no longer have to sell to traders at below market rates. They then treated us to a great lunch--a coarser version of corn grits and boiled chicken. Getting down the hill was a bit trickier after the downpour as the truck slide off the road several times and we ended up walking several kilometers.

Finally, we were treated to a tour of Monk’s Blend coffee by Nicholas. Monk’s Blend is a locally sourced Robusta-Arabica coffee that serves a primarily domestic market. They buy above Nestle’s price so that they can get the highest quality around and churn out about 96 metric tons of coffee per year. The coffee has some fame as people in Manila ask for relatives and friends to bring it back if they travel to Mindanao. I bought a few bags of the blend and Ben picked up a bag of their Arabica beans.

We’re starting to settle in now that it is getting dark--might even have another cup of coffee since our hotel serves Monk’s Blend. Have a good night.

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