COFFEE BREAK CONVERSATIONS WITH MS. VIE REYES
This past weekend, I went on a coffee eco-tour in the Sagada, Mt. Province with my fellow Kaya Collaborative colleagues. Part of the tour was a coffee tasting session in a restaurant called Bana’s Café. My friends and I trekked to the area where the coffee fruits grew and checked out the coffee-making & roasting process that the community implemented under the business model set by Bote Central, a social enterprise that hopes to revolutionize the Philippine coffee landscape. And, of course, we were offered the product of their hard work: Civet coffee. The civet cat eats the coffee fruit, which allows the coffee seedlings to be transformed by the cat’s digestive enzymes. When the seeds are extracted from their feces and cleaned, it is ready to roast and be turned into high-class coffee.
|A cup of delicious civet coffee|
Little did I know, three days later, Gifts & Graces was going to present me with the opportunity to learn about the workings of Bote Central through their founder, Mrs. Vie Reyes. Through our first “Coffee Break Conversations,” Ms. Reyes discussed the brief history of the discovery of coffee, the business model that Bote Central implemented, and the fair trade practices that their organization applies to directly benefit the coffee farming communities in the provinces.
|Ms. Vie Reyes talking about coffee, fair trade and her social enterprise, Bote Central|
Coffee was discovered when monks and missionaries observed that goats were extremely hyperactive, even at night, upon eating coffee berries from a tree. The monks decided to try out the berries themselves. They were delighted to find that coffee kept them wide awake even during the long hours of evening prayer. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Coffee was discovered through the observation of goats, who were extremely hyperactive, even at night, upon eating berries from a tree. Monks and missionaries decided to try this diet out. They discovered that it kept them wide awake even during the long hours of evening prayer. Coffee’s reputation then spread all across the globe. If coffee started out with goats, fair trade started out with the coffee industry. When it was observed that coffee farmers didn’t get their fair cost, fair trade industries started to kick in.
Reyes explained that, currently, the value chain for coffee starts out with the smallholders of the beans, then to the agents, to the consolidators, and finally, to the coffee buying stations such as Nescafe. However, this process did not leave a big enough impact to the livelihood of the smallholders.
Instead, they proposed a smaller scale value chain to be implemented in coffee communities: from the smallholders to community-based COOPs/POs/COs to community-based or local markets and eventually to export markets or markets outside of the community. As a fair trade enterprise, they offer goods and services to the communities to aid them in their coffee-making processes (ex. roasters) and also teach them how to reach their broader market.
This model implemented a value-adding strategy. Usually, farmers gain revenue by selling the raw green coffee beans that they collect from their land, without actually understanding their potential values. Green coffee beans are served 1.2x the value per kilo, roasted coffee beans are sold twice as much, while one cup of coffee is sold for 12x as much.
|Gifts & Graces staff members sipping coffee while listening in on the conversation|
Bote Central, the Philippine Coffee Alliance and many other coffee revolutionaries focus on the farmers, the sector that needs the biggest help. They tell organized farmer clusters to get seedlings from communities, not from corporate sources, they aid them in their sourcing of quality green beans, and lastly, they make innovations to help communities prepare coffee at no extra cost.
Bote Central now has 43 community-based coffee enterprises all over the Philippines implementing the same business model as what I had experienced in Sagada. In these areas, Bote Central was able to help the community members start to own the coffee that they were producing. They instilled in the worker’s minds that it was their craft and so helped them take charge of their businesses. These community-based coffee enterprises are developing and Vie Reyes plans to expand to many more areas.
Hopefully, in the future, more collaborations and conversations between Bote Central and Gifts & Graces will arise as a result of the emerging industry of fair trade. Thank you once again to Ms. Vie Reyes for an insightful conversation!