Filipinos have developed a fondness for coffee, from instant coffee that eventually leveled up to 3-in-1 and of course, the brewed coffee. With the four varieties of commercially available coffee beans − Arabica, Liberica or Barako, Excelsa, and Robusta, this has shaped the lifestyle of many Filipinos and for this reason, the Philippine market has been considered as one of the great consumers of coffee in the region.
While the production of coffee has slightly declined, many continue to venture into the growing local market of coffee, and the only way to make this sustainable is to make encourage more people to get into farming.
Davao-based Coffee for Peace (CFP) proves this can be the case as its CEO and co-founder Felicitas “Joji” B. Pantoja confirms that they are a growing community of farmers and business owners practicing and advocating inclusive development principles in the coffee industry. Social entrepreneurship is their business approach to achieve justice and harmony in society and the environment.
“As a reputable processor for good beans and an experienced roastery, CFP means business continuity for business owners but equally: support for farming communities. CFP even gives buyers the option to create their own brand under a MOA where 10% of every kilo sold goes back to farmers,” says J. Pantoja.
Where does the customer from Luzon or Visayas ordering through the online shop fit into the peacebuilding in Mindanao? “CFP by design allocates 25% of its net profit for its Peace and Reconciliation Teams, composed of volunteers from conflict-affected areas and international volunteers. They are trained in inter-faith dialogue, cross-cultural comms, trauma healing, relief and medical operations,” says J. Pantoja.
Because at the heart of CFP’s operations is training farmers on coffee processing to develop skills to produce high-quality coffee beans. CFP provides knowledge on the market for farmers to understand what consumers want in a coffee, and the value of what they do for awareness on fairer trade pricing. “We want farmers to be confident about the business side of farming, understand their market, correctly price and inspire the next generation to be farmpreneurs too,” says J. Pantoja.
Once the training is complete, CFP offers to partner communities post-harvest services at cost such as: coffee pulping, coffee dehulling, and coffee drying. Coffee for Peace also offers to partner-farmers and those who buy from them shared services such as: toll roasting, packaging, label design, and photography. The training result is a higher quality coffee product produced by a community in the Philippines.
Nurturing grassroots ‘farmerpreneurs’
At the Philippine Coffee Quality Competition, the top five awards went to Specialty Arabica coffee farmers from Davao del Sur. For jury member Byron Pantoja, CFP VP for operations, this indicates “farmers taking ownership of their craft as producers of some of the best coffee in the Philippines. We need to give more farmers the freedom, knowledge, and opportunity to innovate their coffee processes based on the demands of the market and the limitations of their land. That sense of ownership over what they do is what’s going to make them the best.”
Nurturing community ‘farmerpreneurs’ and realizing the country’s potential for premium to specialty coffee go hand in hand. J. Pantoja says, “Only 25% of the country’s 111M population is served by Filipino coffee farmers. Local cafes are challenged in sourcing good beans. We partner with DTI on bridging gaps such as training, equipment and drying space but getting to a scale that boosts our national reputation as a good coffee producer will take time. From 2,000 kilos at start, we are now at 32,000 kilos and encouraged to continue.”
Coffee for Peace has trained close to 880 farming families from different parts of our country, representing 13 tribes, including some Muslim areas. “Our model is to create our own competitors by giving them the secrets to making good coffee. We want to groom ‘farmerpreneurs’ who are also skilled in coffee tasting, financial management and conflict resolution. We want barista interns to dream of having their own coffee kiosks. For every kilo of coffee, one can make 140 cups of 6 ounces, and a barista in Davao nets 5K a day with his own coffee cart. The same can be done anywhere in the Philippines. Imagine if every region’s farmers had their own pop-up café or coffee cart, neighborhoods will also be educated to buy local,” says J. Pantoja.
“Premium specialty coffee from the Philippines” requires a mindset change that’s supported by the fact that local coffee has scored 80% special quality standard, points out Pantoja. A member of the National Coffee Council, she spoke about the need to streamline various resources from government policy and services and link these to smallholder farmers. “We want every island to join the national movement within the coffee industry to raise the level of coffee quality. Grassroots farmers also mean less carbon footprint for supplying the coffee locals want. We’ve gone to uplands to help a micro-lot owner assess the possibility of coffee farming. We’ve also linked roasters, who used to order coffee from us, straight to the farming community.”
Coffee and PH culture
Coffee is innate in the Filipino culture. “When we visit high-conflict communities, coffee served from a palayok is good quality. When I brought a sample to Canada where I used to live, the roasters said there was potential for premium quality to specialty. But we can only produce limited quantities. Opening opportunities for our farmers drove me to collaborate—inspire baristas to educate customers, get roasters to work with traders who source from farmer,” said J. Pantoja.
Operating for 13 years now, Coffee of Peace started with peacebuilding work. “Coffee is the vehicle but the ‘product’ is peace. In our peacebuilding work in Maguindanao, Basilan, and Sulu, we saw that coffee makes Moslem and Christians sit together and dialogue to settle conflict. In our environmental work, we saw that Arabica trees are included in our national greening program. Giving life back to forests also give locals a new, sustainable means of livelihood. I tell farmers: ‘You don’t have to go to the city, the buyers will come to see protected forest.’ We also advise farmers to get to know their customers, then the process follows,” said J. Pantoja.
As a case, Korean buyers came to Davao looking for fine Robusta. Local farmers have since expanded to Robusta. Explains B. Pantoja, “While specialty Arabica has fruity flavors like blueberries and strawberry, fine Robusta has a super smooth, full-bodied chocolatey taste like black tea.”
This distinction in tastes can be a strength of the Philippines as a group of islands since, explains J. Pantoja, we can’t compete with the landmass and harvest volumes of Vietnam, Brazil or Colombia, and we can’t produce for large coffee chains. “Instead, our edge is premium specialty coffee, with micro-lot orders of 1 to 2 tons that are of a quality and fetch a good price. Each island can produce a different taste profile depending on the soil and fauna of that area. Arabica alone has 3,500 subvarieties, while Robusta has 2,400 subvarieties. The higher, the elevation, the sweeter the coffee.” The growing community of coffee champions and curiosity of millennials can only drive excitement over developing Philippine variants that are also ‘Just’ coffee of the social-justice kind.