On January 12, Taal volcano, located 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the Philippines’s capital Manila, erupted, covering the Taal and Tagaytay areas with ash. Volcanic earthquakes continue to shake the island, with 134 between February 2 and 3.
“The ash fall covered lands for up to a 25-kilometer radius. We woke up to a day of gray, entire landscapes, gardens, farms and crops were blanketed in ash. Ash choked the air, and it was difficult to breathe for days,” recounts Paula Aberasturi, Slow Food Council in Manila.
Tagaytay has its share of farms and producers. It is located on higher ground, making it optimal for planting and growing produce that only thrive in cooler temperatures. Most farmers lost their ready-to-harvest crops, along with their livelihood for the weeks and months ahead. Leafy greens suffered the most, wilting and burning under the smoldering ash.
“We lost all our produce, our plants, and even some trees and bamboos that shade our plants. The ash blanketed the plots that were lush with green of different plants instantly. We are slowly recovering as some leaves are sprouting, indicating that there are some roots spared by the eruption.” Gejo and Pinky Jimenez of Malipayon farms.
Community members gathered to support each other sharing food, friendship, and the spirit of resilience. Karla Delgado of Kai Farms, organized an activity called “Circle of Light” to respond to the devastation. The benefit was for farmers and families affected by the Taal ash fall. Farmers who were able to rescue crops sent them to evacuation centers, or crisis kitchens, to help other communities who had to leave their homes and were left adrift.
“When natural disasters strike, it is not only people, homes, and animals that are affected. It is also livelihood. While my farmer friends are safe, which is of first importance, it is heartbreaking to see they have to return to non-salvageable months of work. Despite this calamity, they are eager to get back on their feet and do this all over again,” Raffy Teraoka Dacones, from Teraoka Family Farm.
A Unique Coffee Bean
Another victim of the ashes is the BARAKO coffee. Slow Food Ark of Taste listed Barako or Liberica as an endangered variety.
“Our demo farm has 300 trees, and 60% lost their leaves due to the ash fall. The Barako leaves are bigger than other varieties, so it bore the weight of more ash during the eruption.The ashes destroyed our 5000 seedlings. Only 187 survived. As it is harvest time, we will collect the remaining fruits and make them into planting materials /seeds for sowing to continue the propagation of this variety. We will also bring seeds to other areas far away from the volcano,” said Pacita Juan from Slow Food Council in Manila.
Barako coffee (Coffea liberica) takes its name from the Tagalog word for “wild boar” (Barako), who are fond of dining on the plant’s leaves and berries. This coffee variety grows at elevations of about 300 meters above sea level, and the self-pollinating trees grow up to 20 meters tall. They also produce bigger cherries than those found on Coffea arabica trees. Barako coffee is slowly disappearing from farms and also from the market. Much of it is consumed locally and not exported.
Because the plant is larger than other coffee varieties, it requires more land to produce the same amount of coffee. Therefore, many farmers have switched to planting robusta (Coffea canephora), which is also more common and better known by international coffee drinkers, to fulfill the demands of global commercial coffee processors.
The problem with losing alternative varieties of widely used crops, like coffee, is the loss of biodiversity and resilience farmers can count on in case of disease or the increasing threat of the climate crisis.
It has been almost a month now, and the dust has finally settled. Farmers are rising from the ashes. The lands will heal. Already, we see new spouts and bursts of green.
“We also find a reason to work toward ensuring that food will not be scarce when disasters like these strike. We will find ways for food system resiliency, and for helping each other out.”