Corn farms eating up land devoted to coffee
TABUK CITY—Coffee plantations are being turned into more profitable corn farms, dampening the progress made to develop Kalinga into Cordillera’s major coffee producing province.
The Department of Agriculture has taken note of the drop in upland coffee production in the province, classified as a top coffee producer.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) also recorded a sharp reduction of Kalinga coffee plantations from 5,550 hectares in 2005 to 3,427 ha in 2014.
PSA said corn lands in the province grew by 4,943 ha during the same period—from 9,516 ha in 2005 to 14,459 ha in 2014.
Provincial agriculturist Domingo Bakilan said the massive conversion of coffee farms into corn plantations continues in southern and western portions of Tabuk City, lower Tanudan town and lower Pinukpuk town.
“Some farmers are cutting down coffee trees to plant corn because of the low production of coffee,” he said.
The decline in coffee yield has been attributed to the age of the Kalinga trees. Many are three decades old, having been planted in the 1970s and 1980s, Bakilan said.
Coffee used to be the main cash crop of Barangay Calaccad, as well as neighboring villages in Tanudan and the towns of Paracelis and Natonin in Mt. Province, according to Tabuk City Councilor Martinez Vicente.
Calaccad is now one of the top corn producing villages in the province, after as much as 60 ha of its coffee farms were converted into corn lands, said Vicente, who once served as that village’s chair.
In the last decade, depressed world coffee prices, the reduced fruit-bearing capacity of Kalinga trees, and the considerably high value of corn helped topple coffee as the main industry of these areas, he said.
So farmers did what used to be unthinkable: Cut down their coffee trees and shift to other crops.
“It is not just the better commodity prices of corn that encourages the shift, but also the fact that Kalinga farmers could plant corn twice a year,” Vicente said.
Some farmers are trying to save the trees by turning coffee farms into ginger patches instead.
Instead of cutting down the coffee trees, the Gunaban clan of Nambukayan village spares most of the trees to serve as shade for the ginger patches.
Former Nambukayan village chief Marcelo Gunaban said ginger could remain in the soil for as long as three years and still be marketable. It is unaffected by typhoons and droughts and is immune to most plant diseases, he said.
With their total production area of around 20 ha planted with ginger, the Gunaban family helped make Nambukayan the main supplier of ginger in the Tabuk market.
Vicente said the government’s national greening program may help reverse this trend because the Department of Environment and Natural Resources encourages volunteers to plant coffee trees.
The environmental toll of corn conversion in the province is heavy because farmers have started to wipe out what little forest remains on hillsides, which are suitable for corn production.
“Corn production goes hand in hand with the ‘kaingin’ (slash and burn) system. The practice is worse than illegal logging because illegal loggers only cut mature trees,” Bakilan said.
“Kaingin requires farmers to cut and burn everything. We are encouraging and supporting corn production but not to the point of encroaching on forest areas and coffee plantations, specially slopes of more than 18 degrees.”
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