Coffee enterprise hoping to promote peace in conflict areas

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By Vincent Mariel P. Galang

SOCIAL enterprise Coffee For Peace, Inc. said it hopes to promote coffee growing in conflict areas with an eye towards meeting domestic demand which is currently served largely by imports.

“The concept of “Coffee for Peace” started during our involvement in peace and reconciliation in 2007 in the Pikit area of Midsayap (Cotabato). We were listening to the stories of conflict about land and resources from two different parties, the Bangsamoro Maguindanao people and migrants from the Visayan region. We observed that serving coffee to them to sit down and dialogue, facilitates clarification of issues that would lead to conflict resolution,” Felicitas B. Pantoja, chief executive officer of Coffee For Peace (CFP), told BusinessWorld in an email interview.

Incorporated in 2008, Coffee For Peace aims to promote harmony within communities through joint coffee production by training them to produce coffee.

Ms. Pantoja said 70% of Philippine coffee demand is serviced by imports from Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The company mainly targets communities in conflict areas which have standing coffee trees.

“These areas are mostly where our tribal communities live, and where some rebels are hiding. These also should be forested, but due to indiscriminate logging practices by private companies and slash-and-burn farming by some tribal communities, those areas are left barren and with only cogon grass for cover,” she said.

Ms. Pantoja said that coordination with the local government is a must, but it is important to not look like they are teaming up with the government or with the rebels to achieve reconciliation.

“As a developmental social enterprise, we have to classify which level of conflict we have to enter. First, we respond to the communities’ demand. It involves a lot of listening and social preparation,” she explained.

To date, CFP has trained around 880 farmers in six locations. The company has two cluster communities in Davao Del Sur; three clusters in Bukidnon, one in Mt. Matutum; two communities in Kalinga; one in Mindoro; and one in Antique.

“The communities in Mindanao Island are mostly reconciled communities. They are the communities in low-level conflict and that is why they are able to progress because of the reduced threat,” she said.

Aside from providing a livelihood, it has also helped increase their income by 300%. It has also reforested 21% of the areas in which it operates.

With an initial capital of P500,000, the company has been able to sell over 2,000 kilos of roasted coffee beans annually across the country, as well as to customers in Canada and the United States.

Its other products include green coffee beans and blends served in its coffee shop. The company is looking into producing Arabica coffee, since it has identified various Arabica sub-varieties in the country like Typica, Mysore, Yellow Bourbon, Red Bourbon, Mondo Novo, and Pacamara.

It is now working on building a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved facility for roasting coffee beans to maximize its distribution in supermarkets, grocery stores and trade fairs.

“We are also working on recycling our waste into a product that can earn money like the coffee pulp. Once all of this is set up, we can replicate the model in other countries and we can use this for social franchising,” she said.

“The skill of conflict management helps the community remain intact. Of course, there will always be conflict, but what matters is how you handle it. And these is where we guide the natural peace leaders in the group,” she said.