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The National Power Corporation Watershed Management Department (NPC-WMD) through Upper Agno River Watershed Area Team (UARWAT) in partnership with Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs)has expanded its agro forestry projects in Upper Agno Watershed Reservation (UAWR) to include barangays Ekip and Pito in Bokod, Benguet this year.

Aimed at protecting and rehabilitating the critical Upper Agno Watershed Reservation at the same time providing livelihood to the community, the coffee plantations under UARWAT's Plan 5 and Plan 6 were established to benefit hundreds of farmer-partners who are mostly the indigenous tribes of Bokod, namely the Ibaloi, Ikarao, Kalanguya, among others.

They were tapped as partners in this coffee venture because we have high hopes that they will be seeding and producing the best coffee brew in the region. Few years from now, these barangays would be the seat of kapihan or coffee festival, said Josephine Fernandez, CRO IP Program.

Each farmer-beneficiary is entitle to 1,100 seedlings to be cultivated in his/her one hectare land by 3x3 meter spacing with the provision of maintenance materials such knapsack sprayer, organic fertilizer/ pruning shear/hose, including a budget for labor from NPC-WMD.

The said agro-based project had employed members of the Cobabeng Bobok Arabica Planters Association (CBAPA), Ekip Indigenous Farmers Federation (EIFF) and Residents Development Cooperative (REDECO). The hires are responsible in the plantation establishment activities such as strip brushing, staking including collection of stakes, hole digging, seeding transport, planting and other maintenance activities such as fire line construction (10-m width), fertilizer application, patrol work, and others.

At present, CBAPA is undertaking replanting and second year of maintenance for the 107 hectares of Arabica Coffee Plantation at Bobok-Bisal and Cobabeng, Poblacion; while planting and first year maintenance is on-going at the 100 hectares at Pito and Ekip manned by REDECO and EIFF, respectively.

According to UARWAT Senior Watershed Specialist Guazon Garcia, the plantation in Pito and Ekip are the replications of the CBAPA coffee farm which was launched and turned over to the beneficiaries in 2015. The species planted were the high value Arabica Bourbon and Typica varieties of coffee while alnus trees and other climax trees were interplant to serve as nurse trees.

As stated in the Memorandum of Agreement by and between NPC and the said IPOs, sharing scheme will be observed by the 2nd year of fruiting (after 3 to 4 years) to sustain their cooperatives/associations and to extend such privilege to other IPOs and adjacent barangays. The submitted coffee beans could be propagated to produce new seedling or could be sold by the organization to generate income.

The agreement strengthens partnership with the community in the protection and preservation of the watershed and it automatically makes the IPOs as co-stewards and co-guardians of Benguet pine and other forest trees in their areas, said Onofre S. Castro, UARWAT Section Chief.