Canadian firm partners with XU to revitalize coffee industry

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CAGAYAN DE ORO City, Feb. 15, 2011—A Canadian firm is partnering with the Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan to help revitalize the coffee industry in Mindanao and in the country as well.

Pierre Yves Cote, Rocky Mountain Café president, whose coffee producers are indigenous peoples of various tribes all over the country, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with outgoing XU president, Rev. Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, S.J., for the development and promotion of Arabica coffee in Mindanao.

Xavier University can do this through the (1) development of a minimum of 50 hectares of Arabica coffee plantation on XU properties; (2) setting up a training center to provide training to Mindanao Arabica coffee farmers; (3) establishment of a training program on the best practices in Arabica coffee farming and processing; and (4) establishment of a research program on Arabica coffee production and processing.

For its part, RMC will also (1) provide thesis support grants to XU undergraduate and graduate degree students; (2) create a joint laboratory that specializes in finding solutions to the problems of Arabica coffee farmers in Mindanao; (3) promote entrepreneurship by setting up RMC coffee kiosks and franchises on the XU campus; and (4) provide job opportunities to XU graduates.

“Rocky Mountain Café is a Canadian company that wants to revolutionize the coffee industry in the Philippines,” Cote said during the recent launching of Café Ateneo, which retails RMC’s coffee.

Café Ateneo was launched on February 9 as part of the program of activities for Social
Consciousness Month of XU’s Research and Social Outreach (RSO). Café Ateneo is part of the Student Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) of RSO which seeks to promote entrepreneurship among the students by establishing enterprises that can serve as business laboratories for both business and non-business students.

Café Ateneo, while serving as a training ground for future full-fledged entrepreneurs, aims to expand the food and dining options of the University community. The Café serves specialty coffee provided by RMC. With a temporary location at the Science Center building, the Café is convenient for students who may not have enough time to go to the cafeteria or a farther location for a snack in between classes. Tables and chairs are provided for chitchats or serious discussions that go well with coffee.

RSO hopes to make Café Ateneo more than just a snack bar but a hotbed of intellectual discourse.

Dr. Hilly Roa-Quiaoit, XU vice president for RSO, said that XU’s partnership with RMC will help boost the university’s research and outreach arm to help the community.

Quiaoit said that the partnership with RMC is part of RSO’s program of providing food security to farmers.

RMC and XU can do this by “helping the farmers in Bukidnon in terms of coffee production,” she said.

RMC is now setting up a 50 hectare Arabica coffee plantation in Miarayon, Talakag, Bukidnon.

Revitalize coffee industry

The Bukidnon plantation, set for inauguration soon, is only the fifth plantation that RMC has set up all over the country as part of its thrust of helping the Philippines regain its ranking among the 77 coffee-producing countries in the world. RMC is targeting to establish 10 plantations in 10 provinces from Luzon to Mindanao, with 100,000 Arabica coffee trees in each plantation for a total of 1million Arabica coffee trees nationwide.

The Philippines is currently ranked 76th in the world in terms of coffee production, a very far cry from its 3rd place ranking two decades ago.

“The coffee industry in the Philippines declined because the industry focused on making instant coffee and planting Robusta coffee, which is low-grade coffee,” Cote said.

He said the Bukidnon plantation is targeted to be RMC’s main production unit in this part of Mindanao. RMC also has another plantation in Mindanao, located in Kiamba in Sarangani Province.

Having tasted Philippine Arabica coffee during its heyday, Cote —a French-Canadian married to a Filipina, and calls the Philippines home for the last 20 years —helped established the RMC in 2006 to help revitalize the country’s coffee industry.

“Coffee is selling today at double the price it was selling six months ago. If only Filipino coffee farmers are growing Arabica, they will have three times more money from Arabica that they’re earning from Robusta,” he said.

Misamis Oriental Governor Oscar Moreno confirmed Cote’s claim.

Moreno narrated an incident in Bal-ason, Gingoog City years ago where coffee farmers light their cigarettes using paper money from the sale of their coffee. The same farmers also washed their hands with beer.

“That showed how abundant coffee was then; the price was very high. And that was many years ago,” he said.

Cagayan de Oro City Vice Mayor Cesar Ian Acenas said RMC’s coming to CDO, through its partnership with Xavier University and Brew Brothers Coffee Services, Inc. will surely give a boost to the industry.

Acenas said that he learned from the franchise owner of a famous coffee chain that recently opened here that its one-month income alone exceeded from P4 million.

“This means that RMC has a very good market here in the city, since Kagay-anons are coffee drinkers,” he said.

He also praised RMC for believing in the Filipino coffee farmers.

“Remember, every time you drink a cup of Rocky Mountain Café coffee, you’re helping the Filipino farmers. We want to develop our local farmers,” Cote said.

Coffee with a soul

Aside from being a business, RMC is basically a social enterprise that distributes only organic Arabica coffee grown by local farmers, specifically Indigenous Peoples (IPs).

Cote said that when they set up RMC in 2006, they have consciously and deliberately chose to partner with the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

“We could have partnered with the private sector and earn a windfall but we won’t have any impact on society. We won’t be helping the community. So we made the decision that since we are looking for high altitude locations, we decided to partner with the tribes,” he said in a separate interview.

“RMC is more than just coffee. There is nothing more common than coffee. It’s been here for thousands of years and everybody drink it. But what makes our coffee special is that when you buy a bag of our coffee, you help the indigenous peoples,” he added.

In RMC’s coffee plantation in Benguet, the company is partnering with the Ibaloi and Kankaney tribes; in Kiamba, Sarangani, their partner is the T’Boli tribe; Davao Region, with the Mandaya and Mansaka tribes; and in Bukidnon, RMC will be partnering with the Higaonons and Talaandigs.

Partnering with the IPs or establishing coffee plantations in the tribes’ ancestral territories, however, is not easy.

And Cote admitted that this process really takes time, which is why RMC is working closely with the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to ensure that all the provisions in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) in doing a project inside IPs’ ancestral territories are being followed by the company.

“We do public consultations before we do any project. There is no hanky-panky deal that we do with anybody. What we do is open and free process. We consult the community and inform them in advance. Once their Council of Elders has approved the project, then we negotiate and sign an agreement. It’s a regulated process. It takes time but at least it’s transparent, and it’s fair,” he said.

Because of this, Rocky Mountain Café coffee is famous throughout the world as “the coffee with a soul.”

“The indigenous peoples of the Philippines, they give soul and character to our coffee,” he added, which is why RMC will continue to work with the IPs to help empower them and bring back their pride.

RMC even highlights the profile of each tribe-partner in its website.

In its Corporate Social Responsibility Policy Statement, RMC states: “We believe that taking concrete steps to improve the quality of life of the Filipino people is not just important, it is necessary for a company like ours whose greatest assets are our people, and whose existence depends on the community that hosts us.”

Thus, RMC sees to it that its partner-tribes have access to schools, health facilities, continuing education through trainings, and cooperative development, among others.

But more than these, RMC helps the tribes in the promotion of their unique and traditional indigenous culture.

“Rocky Mountain recognizes that the lives of the indigenous peoples are closely linked to their land. We manifest our profound respect for the indigenous cultural communities and their natural heritage by ensuring that our operations do not degrade the land and its precious resources. Rocky Mountain respects indigenous farming practices and at the same time integrates new farming technologies that make the lives of the men and women coffee farmers easier.

“The company upholds the heritage and traditions of the tribes in all its operations in the Philippines. We use indigenous architecture in the design of our plantation offices and mills. We adopt ethnic patterns and style in our farmers’ uniform. We use indigenous materials, such as abaca, for our coffee harvest baskets and sinamay and buri for the packaging of our finished products.

“We are honored to promote worldwide Philippine Arabica coffee and the unique culture of each Philippine indigenous community that produces it.

“The identity of Rocky Mountain Arabica Coffee Company is enriched by the Philippine indigenous peoples who nurture our coffee,” said Cote. (Bong D. Fabe)

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