Down but not out: Saving kapeng barako after Taal Volcano’s unrest

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CNN Philippines (Metro Manila, January 15) — Kapeng barako (barako coffee) farmers suffered heavy losses when Taal Volcano started unleashing its pent-up wrath, but all is not lost, the agriculture chief said Wednesday.

The Department of Agriculture reported that at least ₱73.95 million-worth of coffee was damaged after the volcano started emitting ash, magma and steam on Sunday, threatening the local coffee industry.

The volcano’s restlessness affected 748 hectares of land and 3,541 metric tons of the coffee in Batangas — which accounts for most of the damage — and Cavite, the department said Tuesday.

But all hope is not lost for farmers who cultivate barako or liberica, as they could still save their produce.

READ: Agriculture Dep't: Initial crop, livestock damage from Taal eruption pegged at ₱577M

Agriculture Secretary William Dar, in an interview over CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Ngayon said Wednesday: “Pwede naman i-rejuvenate. Kung nabali-bali na ang mga sanga, dapat i-cut at lalago na ulit 'yon.”

[Translation: They could still be rejuvenated. If the coffee tree branches broke, they have to be cut and they will grow back.]

But if the trees had gotten totally damaged, Dar assured them that the government is ready to give 5,000 coffee mother plants to affected growers.

Dar earlier said those in the agricultural and fisheries sectors affected by Taal’s unrest could each loan ₱25,000 with zero interest. They can pay back the government in five years, he added.

Livelihood grants worth ₱130 million were also distributed on Tuesday to farmers and fisherfolk in Calabarzon, he added. The region is comprised of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon.

In 1740, a Spanish Franciscan monk introduced the first coffee tree in Lipa, Batangas, according to nonprofit Philippine Coffee Board. Coffee growing was then adapted in other parts of the province namely Ibaan, Lemery, San Jose, Taal, and Tanauan, the group added. .

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, in its latest bulletin on Wednesday, said that Taal Volcano is emitting less ash and steam, but that "a hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days." Taal's activity may last from days to several months, the institute added.

State volcanologists recorded Wednesday cracks or fissures in several villages in Sinisian, Mahabang Dahilig, Dayapan, Palanas, Sanggalang, Poblacion, Mataas na Bayan in Lemery, Pansipit, Bilibinwang, Agoncillo, Poblacion 1235 in Talisay, Poblacion in San Nicolas in Batangas, which caused structures in those areas to partially collapse.