Princess brings water and electricity to a town
I was set up to meet a Princess from Sulu and was looking forward to discussing Moslem traditions and royalty duties among other topics. To my pleasant surprise, I met a petite lady with a big heart, who had no airs about her and spoke of culture and social work like it was her life’s calling.
Princess KumalahSug-Elardo was born to Moslem parents in Sulu but settled in Zamboanga for most of her married life. When her daughter chose to render rural service as a medical graduate in Sulu, she went along to “watch” over her girl.
She then saw how her people lived, or not lived because they had no livelihood. There also was no electricity nor water in Barangay Kandayok, Panamao, Sulu. She then thought of organizing a cooperative which is now called People’s Alliance for Progress Multi Purpose Cooperative (PAPMPC).
With 354 members, 72 of them women she looked into fisheries and coffee as possible livelihood programs.
Princess attended the 2nd National Coffee Summit organized by the Philippine Coffee Board in 2009 and she also attended some training held by a coffee company sometime later.
Through the summit she learned about “Pick Red”, the Board’s campaign to pick only the ripest cherries and to make the coffee quality better. Through Mindanao coffee advocates Louie Pacana and Joel Lumagbas she learned that “wet process” would give her a better price for her coffee.
She did not stop at the harvest of the ripest cherries. She also looked for the Civet coffee in the mountains and she taught the local folk about the four varieties of coffee found in their midst.
“If you sort the coffee, we will get better prices for each one,” she told them. After the harvest, she went on and proceeded forward in the value chain having the coffee roasted herself.
Coffee’s value jumps once roasted. It then becomes a” ready to brew “product, rather than a raw material say, for instant or soluble coffee. Princess attended trade shows, some of them international Ifex (International Food Expo) in nature and met many interested Japanese buyers and other coffee enthusiasts. She hired a marketing consultant and branded her coffee “Royal Sulu Coffee”. Each coffee bean is harvested at the peak of ripeness, fermented and washed, and then dried in solar dryers, and is roasted and blended before packaging. She did the whole value chain!
What many do not know is what Princess went through to put water in her community. She observed that the men in her town only carried guns and the women had to fetch water from 5 km away. There was also no livelihood to speak of. There is no electricity in Panamao. She organized 160 residents to fork out P1,000 each, and with their P160,000 they tapped water from the next Barangay called Talipao.
To her surprise, what they thought would be a lengthy process was finished in all of 21 days. Yes, they had water in just 21 days through sheer community effort. Mind you, she does not plan to run for public office. She just did what a community leader ought to do—get those hands and feet moving towards one cause. And their cause was simple and very basic-water.
It might help us understand that Princess could not do all these without the support of a Christian husband, Ret. Col. Elardo of the Philippine Army. Colonel Elardo would support all her projects and be the wind beneath her wings. He would even encourage her to take a second degree in Social Work at Wesleyan University when he was assigned to Nueva Ecija. It is admirable how many men would encourage their wives to continue making themselves better. Colonel Elardo is one of them.
What Princess Kumalah did to coffee, her community and to her cooperative in just two years is an example of how a focused vision on providing livelihood bears results. Now, I am so impressed that she has gone on to think of planting new coffee trees—maybe 25,000 trees a year—and the other end of the value chain, is put up a coffee shop in Zamboanga. I, of course, volunteered to help her set up the coffee shop and we will call it “Women In Coffee.”
There are bright times ahead for this town which does not even have light. I offered to recommend Princess to get support for electricity maybe from the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF) or Jim Ayala’s Hybrid Solutions. Or they can start with solar lanterns and the like.
And let’s not forget the fishery part. She was able to enlist her cooperative as a recipient of the National Cold Chain project and now has a Brine Immersion Freezer courtesy of the DA and Nabcor. The unit though, has to be in Jolo town proper because it of course needs electricity. She shares use of the unit with other groups in Jolo, which makes LQF (liquid Quick freezing) available to all fisherfolk wanting to quick-freeze their catch. They also supply ice to Panamao, who never had ice supply before.
At 62, she proudly has these accomplishments in the last two years after many years of social work. She is a social worker by heart and now by education too. She often travels to Manila to keep abreast of the latest trends and to participate in trade shows where her much coveted “Royal Sulu Coffee” is for sale. Yes, it is only available in shows, until I begged her to send me some to sell in Kape Isla. This woman knows Niche Marketing and I salute her. She does not sell unprocessed coffee, but only her roasted special blend. And she does not sell everywhere.
Oh gosh, I met my own kind. The hardest thing to do is to sell to a salesman. And she did just that. She sold me on her Royal Sulu Coffee. Soon to come in Kape Isla (www.philcoffeeboard.com.).
(The author is president of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. She runs a social enterprise called ECHOstore sustainable lifestyle in Serendra and Podium.)