Davao coffee shop helps lift farmers out of poverty
DAVAO CITY — Marivic and Joe Randy Dubria live in a farming village in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, at the foothills of Mt. Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines.
The couple worked hard but they struggled to make ends meet. Vegetable farming brought little income while Marivic’s take home pay as a day care teacher was only P1,500 a month a decade ago.
Marivic said their neighbors looked down on them for relying on government aid allocated for the poorest in their community.
Their life started to change with the intervention of government and non-profit groups that aimed to reintroduce plant life in their area after over-logging left the hills denuded.
Marivic quit her job so she can attend training programs for farmers while Joe Randy focused on tending to their land.
It was during one of those trainings that Marivic met Joji Pantoja, founder of the social enterprise Coffee for Peace.
Joji told Marivic and her fellow farmers, “There is money in farming coffee.”
“At that time, I could not believe that,” Marivic recalled.
Potentials of coffee farming
To show the potential of coffee farming, Joji would buy the coffee cherries or the fruits of the coffee plant from the farmers.
“They brought us farmers to Davao City so we can learn how they process coffee beans. I was curious about coffee quality so when I got home, I tried to replicate it,” she said.
Through trainings done by Coffee for Peace, Marivic and other farmers learned how to properly care for their coffee plants, how to sort coffee cherries and how to better process them to yield world-class coffee beans.
From producing coffee fruits that sold only for P80 to P90 per kilo, Marivic and her husband were able to sell coffee beans at more than P250 per kilo.
“We are also taught how to do costing. We do not know much about financial literacy, how to handle our money so we were also taught that,” Marivic said of the trainings.
This helped them break free from the clutches of local traders who controlled the selling prices of both farming inputs and harvests. They were also able to rise above the poverty threshold and have enough money to put their kids through school.
Coffee for Peace
Joji and her husband, Mennonite minister Luis Daniel “Lakan” Pantoja returned to the Philippines in 2006 after two decades of mission work in Canada. They founded Coffee for Peace as a social enterprise that not only showcased the quality of Filipino coffee but also promoted peace in the conflict-ridden region.
While Rev. Dann led their non-profit organization, PeaceBuilders Community Inc., in teaching communities in Mindanao the importance of peace and reconciliation, Joji used her hotel and restaurant management degree to start Coffee for Peace as an income-generating project following the social entrepreneurship model.
Gomer Padong, secretariat lead of the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneur-ship (PRESENT) Coalition of which Coffee for Peace is also a member, explained that while social enterprises also aim to generate income like traditional businesses, they are social mission-driven toward “improving societal well-being as well as contribute to ecological sustainability.” In the case of Coffee for Peace, their mission is to help farmers, preserve the environment and promote peace.
As peace builders, Joji and her husband sought to find a way to help broker peace or at least halt the violence that had caused loss of lives, livelihood and shelter for many families in Mindanao.
At one point, they set up “Peace Houses” – six nipa huts in Cotabato where they and other peace workers invited the military and the rebel groups to meet and discuss cessation of hostilities.
“Guns were not allowed there. Only coffee was allowed. And while we served coffee, they pro-ceeded with the dialogue. As that went on, we saw fewer skirmishes and gunfights,” Joji recalled.
“That was my inspiration — coffee for peace. I want to use coffee as a medium or vehicle to propagate the mission of peace,” she said.
Soon, Joji discovered that there were many untapped coffee farming communities in Mindanao, many of them indigenous peoples groups who were growing sought-after arabica coffee. Her contacts in Canada confirmed that what they had was specialty or high-quality coffee.
What started out as a coffee business meant to support peace-building activities, soon became a training ground for farmers and young coffee entrepreneurs. And their mission expanded to increasing local supply and demand for Philippine-grown coffee amid the practice of importation of popular coffee shops.
Training social entrepreneurs
About a decade after she first encountered Coffee for Peace, Marivic now sells her own brand of coffee beans called “Marivica.” She even started selling it to other establishments.
“Marivica” already won in various coffee competitions for its great quality. In 2019, it won first place in the Philippine Coffee Quality Competition (PCQC) held in Boston, United States.
Now, Marivic has taken on the role of trainer, teaching fellow farmers how to improve their harvest and how to produce quality coffee beans. She is even invited by government agencies to attend international events to represent Filipino coffee farmers.
While there is no more armed conflict in the area, the peace and reconciliation trainings of Coffee for Peace’s partner non-profit organization PeaceBuilders Community still comes in handy when resolving conflicts among the farmers or the cooperatives. Also helpful are the leadership training prgrams offered in tandem with peace building.
Coffee for Peace’s mission extends not just to farmers but also its own workers.
Besides continuing to seek out and train farmers, many of them from indigenous peoples groups, Joji has also been training their baristas to become entrepreneurs. They help enroll them in baking classes and other workshops.
At Coffee for Peace’s new kiosk at a nearby mall, Joji has been teaching barista Joanna Mae Lozada learn the ins and outs of the business so she can set up her own coffee stall.
Among Coffee for Peace’s new trainees are members of the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe.
Like Marivic, they were told that there is money in coffee.
“I joined different trainings and seminars. It’s only then that I learned that coffee is globally in-demand. It was only then that I realized we need to care for our coffee because we can earn from it,” Bai Baby said. (Bai is an honorific title given to women of stature in the tribe.)
They used to sell their robusta coffee cherries at P60 to P70 per kilo to buyers who only wanted to get the cheapest harvest.
Bai Baby said once they learned how to sort and pick the best coffee cherries and process them into coffee beans, they were able to sell at P150 per kilo.
There is much demand now for the Bagobo Tagabawa’s coffee, with some local restaurants offer-ing their coffee to customers. For now, the tribe is working towards setting up a store and invest-ing in machinery that will help them scale up their operations.
Social enterprise bill
This was why it’s important to have a legal framework that will support and encourage social enterprises, said Gomer of the PRESENT Coalition.
Currently, the PRESENT Coalition and its members, including Coffee for Peace, are pushing for the passage of a social enterprise bill. Several versions of it have already been filed in Congress.
The campaign for the so-called Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Bill is part of The Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia (GRAISEA) program, of which Oxfam Pilipinas and the PRESENT Coalition are a part of.
“These social enterprises, they introduce basic and appropriate technologies to far-flung communities, like community-based roasting facilities. It seems simple but many are able to produce globally competitive products because of this,” Gomer said.
“The nature of the business is that there is a mission. Shouldn’t government support this? Social enterprises are doing services that is should be done by the government and yet they extend it as part of their businesses),” he added.
Gomer explained that the “hybrid nature” of social enterprises were also important to look at. He said that while micro, small and medium enterprises were already struggling to keep their business afloat, it was even more challenging for the social enterprise who had to balance their “triple bottom lines” of “people, profit and planet.”
The additional incentives such as tax credits stated in the bill should encourage more people to start and expand social enterprises, especially since it helps the country address poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of of zero poverty, no hunger, reduced inequality, women’s economic empowerment, and building resilient and sustainable communities.
“Poverty reduction on a grand scale is our intended impact,” Gomer said, adding that other support programs will include development grants, non-collateralized loans and a comprehensive insurance system. These are intended to help social enterprises amid the many disasters and the effects of climate change that the Philippines is expected to experience in the coming years.
And in times of calamities or crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, Gomer said, having the government’s support is important.
There were around 164,000 social enterprises (or more than 15 percent of all businesses in the country) before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study by the Philippine Social Enterprise Network and the British Council, supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. But in 2020, a follow-up study of the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia, supported by Oxfam Pilipinas, showed that 55 percent of social enterprises experienced major downturns; 41 percent experienced some setbacks, and only 4 percent reported any positive impact during the pandemic.
“I think with sustained government support, their numbers will increase more,” Gomer said.
For now, social enterprises like Coffee for Peace will have to rely on their own networks and resourcefulness to bring about change in the rural communities they operate in. CONTRIBUTED
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