By YVETTE TAN
Arnold Abear, 43, from Bagong Silang, Maramag, Bukidnon is a farmer who has found success in planting coffee.
Arnold Abear and his daughter. (Nestle Philippines)
The former rubber farmer switched crops in 2008, after rubber prices dropped during the financial crisis that same year. He was originally from the municipality of Kadingilan, but moved to Maramag because that’s where his wife is from. Maramag is mountainous, so many farmers in the area cultivate coffee. “I saw that profit was better so we shifted as well,” Abear said in Tagalog.
Abear in his coffee farm. (Nestle Philippines)
Bukidon’s top coffee farmer
Abear is a partner farmer of Nescafe Philippines’ Project Coffee, which aims to help Philippine coffee farmers increase their yield through regenerative agricultural practices. He explained that his yield used to be around 250-350 kg of Robusta coffee per hectare per year. This is not a lot, especially compared to Vietnam’s average of 2.8 metric tonnes per hectare. He was already selling to Nestle, Nescafe’s mother company, when Project Coffee was piloted where he farmed. “They were the ones who approached us to ask if they could help uplift coffee farmers and the coffee industry,” he said.
Part of Abear’s farm with Robusta coffee trees in the foreground. (Nestle Philippines)
Now, Abear is Project Coffee’s top farmer in Bukidnon, with an average of 1,180kg per hectare last year. His farmland totals eight hectares, though he started with just half a hectare. “All of that came from our sweat and the [profits] from coffee.”
Abear, who started farming on half a hectare of land, now farms on eight hectares. (Nestle Philippines)
His secret? Applying the lessons he learned as a Project Coffee partner farmer, but also not being afraid to innovate when necessary. For example, he sprays organic matter with Effective Microorganism (EM) solution to aid in bacterial breakdown before tossing it into the compost pile.
Applying what he learned and not being afraid to innovate resulted in Abear becoming Bukidnon’s top coffee farmer in 2022. (Nestle Philippines)
He also maintains a vegetable garden where the family grows leafy vegetables, gabi, and sitaw, and also keeps livestock such as ducks for personal consumption.
“[What I like about] Nestle is that they’ll not only teach [you farming techniques], but also guide you [as an entrepreneur] as well,” he said. “You have clear objectives, and you are able to help the environment and also help the industry.”
Farmers as business owners
His life is very different from his parents, who owned the land they farmed on but were nonetheless beholden to someone else. “All their farm inputs were borrowed from the financier, and they had to give all their harvests to the financier to pay for their loan,” he said. “What we did was we took out a loan from the bank, so we have no problem with buyers. Whoever wants to buy our products at the highest price, that’s who we sell to.”
He added that as a business owner, he owns his own time and makes his own plans for the farm. This, again, is in contrast to his parents, whose financiers dictated what crops to plant per season. “It’s like you’re being held by the neck,” he said, referring to the way his parents farmed. “That’s the difference.”
An uncertain future
When asked what he liked most about his job, Abear answered, “What’s great is that I’m happy. I’m able to sustain my family’s basic needs,” though he adds that there is still a lot of uncertainty because of the country’s current economy, and because none of his four children are in college yet. “All four of them are interested [in farming] because it’s what they’ve been exposed to as the reason for their good lives.”
Abear hopes more Filipinos will choose to support farmers by buying local. (Nestle Philippines)
Abear hopes that the state of Philippine agriculture will improve. “[I wish] Filipinos would buy products produced by fellow Filipinos,” he said. “Imports are in, and us farmers will die if our fellow Filipinos buy imported [instead of local]. I hope Filipinos buy [local] so the families that depend on the profits from these products can continue to live.”
Photos courtesy of Nestle Philippines