By Judy G. Quiros
Not one but six farmers growing coffee have already built new houses in Purok Pluto, which is five hours to Mt. Apo’s summit in Cotabato and Davao del Sur provinces, the highest mountain in the Philippines. These families are among the 13 communities trained by Coffee for Peace on coffee plantation management and peace and reconciliation that addresses the values of communities.
The sight of the new houses upon her visit in the area last week delighted Felicitas “Joji” Pantoja, CEO and Capacity Building Trainer for Farmers of Coffee for Peace, which is a social enterprise that promotes the culture of peace through coffee.
Joji in an interview said, the farmers proudly told her “katas ng kape (extracts of coffee)” pointing to the houses. Other farmers invested their earnings from their coffee in buying horses, which is the main means of transport in the boondocks.
Coffee for Peace was born when Joji who is co-founder together with her husband of Peace Builders Community advocating peace and social justice sips coffee being served to them by the barangay folks every time they visited post conflict-ridden areas in Mindanao specifically in the areas of Cotabato, Basilan and Sulu to achieve recovery and reconciliation in 2006 and onwards when peace negotiations are ongoing between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The coffee is the farmers’ yields from their own farms. “So I thought doon sa coffee na yon pwede gamitin as vehicle to carry the message of peace,” she said.
The social entrepreneurship idea of Joji was realized in 2008 when she and her husband together with three other individuals incorporated Coffee for Peace and started with a six-sitter store near the Philippine Women’s College in Davao City. They are buying Arabica Coffee from the farmers they have engaged with in their peace building work.
“The role of Coffee for Peace is to market their (farmers) coffee and the role of Peace Builders Community is do the capacity building by integrating peace and reconciliation in the trainings. You cannot address peace if you cannot address the economic aspect of the affected communities,” Joji said.
With the help of directly concerned government and some private groups, Coffee for Peace was able to train the coffee farmers from said 13 communities number to about 20 families each community on how to produce quality coffee, how to brand and price their coffee and how to live in peace and harmony.
“Ang approach namin ay hindi lang kami magproprofit but walking them so that these farmers would envision themselves as social entrepreneurs so sila mismo marunong silang makipagdeal sa traders sila mismo kaya nilang sabihin may product is good because sila mismo magpackage mag roast at mag branding ng kanilang kape.”
Nalgene Libres, 27, the daughter-in-law of a coffee farm owner and a member of the local Bagobo tribe said in the vernacular “Coffee is very important because it is the key source of income to us, next to vegetable farming.” “With the extra income, we can sustain the daily needs for school-going children. We can have savings to use for emergencies, such as when we are sick. It helps a lot in our family,” she said.
At present, farmers from Mount Matutum in South Cotabato, mostly of the Bilaan Tribe, Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon and Mount Apo in Cotabato and Davao del Sur and two communities in Cordillera Region are supplying Arabica Coffee to Coffee for Peace.
But the farmers’ Arabica coffee has reached across the Philippines. Since 2011 Coffee for Peace has been exporting the farmers’ coffee to Canada and USA, and it was cup and graded by the Specialty Association of America (SAA), a license Q grader and graded their coffee 84 percent.
And almost all the coffee was graded 80 percent and above by SAA with the coffee from Mount Kitanglad getting the highest with a score of 87.9 percent, Joji said.
In the USA, the farmers’ coffee is being sold at the Level Ground Trading. This company gets only from direct sources among others, Coffee for Peace. Level Ground is involved in fair trade store chain called Ten Thousand Villages where stores are all over USA and Canada.
Coffee for Peace chooses Arabica coffee to address its third advocacy which is environment. The other two are: farmers and peace building.
In its research, Coffee for Peace learned that Arabica coffee tree can help mitigate soil erosion and flash flood. Also, most of the indigenous people living in the uplands are growing Arabica that usually grows faster and healthier in cooler places.
Arabica also has a wider market with 80 percent of world’s population drinks Arabica used for espresso-based drink, Coffee for Peace learned in its research work.
Coffee for Peace encourages more peace building partner communities to plant Arabica because it is profitable for them at the same time apt for sustainable forest management.
Coffee for Peace is not contented by just seeing the farmers in their routinely livelihood of growing coffee then selling them.
“I want to see Philippine coffee around the world.” “I want to teach farmers the whole value chain so they can even own their own café,” Joji said adding that these coffee shops will be uniformedly called KAPEyapaan, which is closely synonymous to the tagalog word “kapayapaan” which means peace.
She just started to walk the farmers to the next level of entrepreneurship when she lent capital for a community in Tabok, Kalinga to open a KAPEyapaan Café this year. To teach them the sense of responsibility, they have to return the amount after three years so she could lend another group to build another KAPEyapaan.
Next year, a coffee farmers group is also targeting to launch a KAPEyapaan in Valencia, Bukidnon. They are just awaiting the go signal from the funding agency for the construction of the building.
Joji is the one who looks for funding agencies and write proposals for the farmers as beneficiaries.
“Our company is an inclusive lahat ginagawa naming inclusive not just about profit but also environment, some call it social enterprise while some call it corporate social responsibility (CSR), but CSR is not complete it’s beyond CSR because we are not only concerned about profits but we are also concerned how it benefits the communities from what we are doing. It is important for us to see them growing together with us,” she said.
What Joji desires is for the local farmers to design their coffee shop according to their tribe or association. The main idea is they have their coffee farms; they have a coffee shop that serves their own production. In the end their communities will be identified as eco-tourism destinations.
The advocacy of Coffee for Peace for inclusive business has paid off after Shujog Foundation based in Singapore during its recent impact assessment on the company recently found that 95 percent of what the company is doing has increased the income and knowledge of the farmers on entrepreneurship.
In its assessment, Shujog Foundation stated “Entrepreneurs like Joji to rigorously understand and effectively communicate to stakeholders how they are creating social value. A critical part of the package includes co-designing tools and sharing the know-how to monitor the positive impact of an enterprise. Ultimately, our objective is for enterprises to utilize the measured results to scale their business and the social good they are achieving.
It doesn’t end there. We’re committed to supporting social innovators like Joji to scale the impact of her work and empower more lives through it. In the coming months, we will be working alongside the team of Coffee for Peace to provide capacity-building and advice to strengthen the enterprise business and financial plans, and eventually enhance their potential to secure access to funding for growth.”
From a mere six-sitter café near PWC, a cozy Coffee for Peace Café is now located along McArthur Highway in Matina. The store is decorated with Maranaw, Tala-andig musical instruments, a fishing cage used as a lampshade, a table with sewing machine bottoms and a lot of group photos of partner community farmers.
Just recently, Coffee for Peace opened another branch at One Oasis Condominium near SM City at Ecoland, Davao City. The café is named Coffee for Peace Bistro.
To grow further together with the farmers as coffee suppliers, the company is currently experimenting to level up further to franchising.