Cebu is known for iconic Pinoy food such as lechon, chicharon, torta, dried mangoes, and otap. But in recent years, it’s becoming known for the distinct taste of its local brew. Tuburan coffee, which is organically grown in this mountainous town of Cebu, is now recognized as the official coffee of the province. One of the popular local coffee shops there, Coffee Dream, as well as Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, source their coffee from the town of Tuburan. Radisson Blu, on the other hand, offers the refreshing goodness of Tuburan ice cream.
The unique flavor of Tuburan coffee could be attributed to wind and location, says City Administrator Steve Salipot. Unlike the coffee in Batangas and Cavite, which are grown in the lowlands, Tuburan coffee is grown almost 2,000 feet above sea level, so it doesn’t capture salty water. Its Robusta seedlings came from Tagum, Davao del Norte, the same seedlings used by global brand Nestle, but planted on very high ground.
This dream to become the Coffee Capital of the Visayas all started out as a livelihood project initiated by Mayor Diamante, now currently serving his third term as town chief. “Ang hangarin ko ay matulungan ang mga Tuburanon na maiangat sa kahirapan. Sa awa ng Diyos, nagkaroon kami ng isang livelihood project, itong coffee plantation. (My foremost goal is to help Tuburanons rise above poverty. With God’s grace, we now have a livelihood project, this coffee plantation),” he says.
His idea was born in 2012, when Tuburan adopted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) national training program. Seven hundred hectares of land were donated to the town of Tuburan, and DENR offered to pay P7 for every tree planted. “I told the DENR that it would be best to plant fruit-bearing trees, lest people will just turn these into charcoal. Then, we agreed that coffee is a viable choice,” he shares.
Mayor Aljun sought the assistance of Nestlé Philippines, which generously lent its technical knowledge in coffee growing. He was told that if he can get seedlings from Tagum, Davao del Norte, Nestlé could send a technician to help. Raring to get the project up and running, he immediately bought the seedlings and built a training center in Tuburan. With the help of Nestlé’s technician, they were able to build a nursery, that paved the way to starting Tuburan’s coffee farm.
Adhering to the same objective of helping the poor, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) regional director, Efren Carreon, offered to help by pooling together government agencies in a convergence that aims to grow the coffee industry in Tuburan. “Sabi nya sa akin, ‘Mayor, mag-usap tayo kung paano natin matutulungan ang mahihirap.’ Sabi ko, ‘Director, bisitahin mo ang coffee plantation ko sa bundok. More than 1,000 farmers ang matutulungan doon.’ Noong pinuntahan nya, sabi nya, ‘hindi na pala tayo kailangang mag-isip pa.’ (He told me, ‘Mayor, let’s talk about how we can help the poor.’ I said, ‘Director, why don’t you visit our coffee plantation in the mountains. We’ll be able to help 1,000 farmers there.),” recalls Mayor Aljun.
The convergence started in 2015, and support from different sectors has since poured in. Line agencies of local and national government have formed the Technical Working Group to assist the 17 people’s organizations engaged in coffee farming. These include NEDA, Department of Agriculture, Philippine Coconut Authority, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, Philippine Fiber Industry Authority, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, Provincial Agriculture Office, Cooperative Development Authority, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agrarian Reform, National Irrigation Administration, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Tourism, and the Philippine Statistics Authority.
“Ang palagi ko lang sinasabi sa mga farmers, ingatan nila at magsipag sila dahil sila din naman ang makikinabang dito (What I always tell the farmers is to take care of what’s been given to them, work hard because in the end, they are also the ones to benefit from it),” he says. The project has also received enormous support from the business sector, like the Cebu Chamber of Commerce, that buys their products. “Masaya akong maraming gustong tumulong sa mga mahihirap (I am happy that many people want to help the poor).”
Mayor Aljun has high hopes for the people of Tuburan, and he admits that his nine-year term as mayor may not be enough. So he’s hoping that his brother, Vice Mayor Danny Diamante, will win in the 2019 elections to continue what he started.
“In the next five to 10 years, through hard work and the help of our people, we hope that there will be no more poorest of the poor in Tuburan,” he says.
One of Mayor Aljun’s advocacies is to encourage the youth to study agriculture. “Before, no one wants to take up agriculture. We’ve been offering the course at Cebu Technological University. But parents would often say, ‘Bakit namin pakukuhanin ng kursong agrikultura ang mga anak namin, e magsasaka naman kami? (Why would we want our kids to take up agriculture, when we are already farmers?)’ So I would explain to them that this is not all about traditional farming but modern methods of farming, employing scientific approach.”
By having home-grown agriculturists, Mayor Aljun is hoping that Tuburan can also grow high-value crops, to boost their economy. He has already donated eight hectares of his land to a barangay in the mountains, to serve as an extension school and research center, especially for coffee. Likewise, they are now beginning to grow bananas and abaca, and doing research on growing dragon fruits.
Mayor Aljun is positive that through education and research, he can empower the people of Tuburan to sustain their town’s livelihood program and encourage them to explore and develop the God-given natural riches that are entrusted to them.