By Carmencita A. Carillo, Correspondent

Mt. Matutum gets new business buzz from coffee

Posted on January 28, 2016

GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Agricultural engineer Fred Fredeluces quit regular employment in 2007 and used his retirement money to partly construct a 100-square-meter processing plant for coffee, harvested in Mt. Matutum by the B’laan indigenous people.

Fred Fredeluces, chief executive officer of Green Tropics Coffee Enterprise, displays civet coffee beans and a sculpture of a civet. After processing, the beans fetch P600 per 60-gram pack. -- Carmencita A. Carillo
“My father was already involved in Mahintana Foundation, a non-government organization that handles community projects, some of which involved the coffee growers in Mt. Matutum even before Green Tropics was established,” said Francis B. Fredeluces, son of Fred and the marketing officer of Green Tropics Coffee Enterprise.

Green Tropics handles the processing and marketing of coffee grown sustainably by 40 B’laan families in a 405-hectare (ha) area they own, as well as those harvested from the droppings of civets (Paradoxorus philippinensis), also called musang or bulos by the B’laan. The civet coffee is popular among the company’s foreign buyers.

Francis said Green Tropics started with the local market but has since partnered with a family friend based in Manila for wider distribution.

“A family friend from Manila asked me about possible coffee sources here as he was interested in civet coffee. When they saw the area in Mt. Matutum where the coffee is grown, they decided to partner with us,” Francis told BusinessWorld in an interview at Green Tropics’ processing area in General Santos City.

The company now has a loyal customer base for both its The Matutum Brew coffee brand made from arabica beans and the more expensive civet coffee -- also known as kopi luwak -- which costs P600 for a 60-gram pack.

“Our coffee is sold at Greenleaf Hotel in General Santos City, but we also have partners in Davao like Coffee for Peace,” Francis said.

For civet coffee, about 40 kilograms per month are sent to dealers in Australia, the United States, and some countries in Europe.

In 2011, the company joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Food& Beverage Trade Mission at the ASEAN-Japan Center in Tokyo, which Francis said is considered a good market for unique and organic coffee brands.

However, he continued, the company has yet to get organic certification due to the cost involved and the “complicated process.”

He said Green Tropics also aims to expand operations, especially for the export market, but needs better access to financing.

The company received a P2 million from the Foundation for a Sustainable Society (FSSI) when they built the plant, but they now need more capital to purchase beans so the B’laan can expand their growing area to up to 2,000 ha.

October to March is coffee harvest time for the B’laan, who live on the slopes of Mt. Matutum, while the rest of the year is spent on vegetable farming.

Mayor Honey L. Matti of Polomolok town, located at the foot of Mt. Matutum, said the involvement of the B’laan in the coffee industry and the increasing popularity of civet coffee has improved the lives of the indigenous community and raised their concern, not only for the musang but also for the environment.

Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. has identified three main sources of arabica coffee in Mindanao,one of which is the Mt. Matutum Protected Area, parts of which are identified as the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples.

The two other areas are the foot of Mt. Apo, shared by North Cotabato and Davao del Sur provinces, and Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon.

The local government of Polomolok and the Polomolok Water District launched in 2014 the Mt. Matutum Organic Coffee Production Project, aimed at generating income for households in the municipality through the production of organic arabica and robusta coffee, while supporting the Mt. Matutum Watershed Program and National Greening Program.

Ms. Matti said the Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape is faced with the problem of continuous deforestation, as a growing population resorts to destructive farming systems, the girdling of trees, and other harmful practices.

Companies like Green Tropics contribute to the program as they train the indigenous community in sustainable methods and at the same time provide the marketing opportunity for their coffee produce.