By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo
ILOILO CITY — In the forests of the remote mountain village of Nagpana in Iloilo province, coffee shrubs have long been growing wild in abundance.
But the Ati indigenous community that lived there was not aware that it was a high-value crop.
“Our farmers did not know what type of plants grew in our forest lands until it was discovered that it was coffee,” according to Grace E. Eno, a member of the community and treasurer of the Nagpana Minority Association (NAMIAS), which produces the Kape Miro brand.
“We believe that it was the Asian Palm Civet that brought coffee to our farms, that is why we named it Kape Miro,” she said, referring to the civet’s name in the local dialect.
The traditional form of civet coffee involves farmed civets who are fed coffee cherries, which they partially digest, producing beans, which are then processed like regular coffee. Within the industry, partially-digested coffee beans are considered a novelty while the farming of civets has raised ethical concerns.
Before NAMIAS was formed, Ms. Eno said her father and others of his generation started coffee farming, but had no steady market.
“We used to sell it in the streets and in the markets,” Ms. Eno said.
The farmers eventually received assistance from the non-government organization Taytay Sa Kauswagan, Inc. (TSKI), and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) and Tearfund New Zealand.
By 2013, the Ati community had its own coffee processing facility.
In November of that year, however, super typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayas, damaging their coffee plantation, the facility, and their homes.
But the Atis quickly got back on their feet, and in 2015 they opened a new processing facility, again with support from TSKI, DoST and Tearfund NZ, plus the municipal government of Barotac Viejo, and more government agencies.
“TSKI, DoST, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and other agencies (like the Department of Labor and Employment) came in to help us with the production facility. They really helped us by providing us machines and they were the ones who identified our potential buyers,” Ms. Eno said.
The production process again received support in 2017 through DoST’s Community Empowerment through Science and Technology (CEST) program.
Now, Ms. Eno said, they have all the machines for the entire production process, including a dehuller, roasting machine, and sealer.
“We have a complete coffee production so we are the ones who pack the products and deliver it to our buyers,” she said.
One of their main buyers and distribution channels is Tinukib Cafe and Souvenirs in Iloilo City, a cultural venue managed by TSKI’s Tinukib Foundation, Inc. It is located inside the Casa Gamboa heritage house.
Almost everyone in the Ati community is involved in the coffee enterprise, but Ms. Eno said some of the women have maintained the weaving tradition or ventured into making jewelry, purses and other souvenir items.
The success of NAMIAS and Kape Miro received recognition last month during DoST Regional Science Week, where they were awarded the Regional Best Community and Best CEST Project for 2019.
Ms. Eno, who received the award in behalf of NAMIAS, said the association is proud to have become one of the biggest coffee producers in Iloilo and hopes that other indigenous communities will be inspired by their work.