When Daniel Luis Pantoja, a Filipino Mennonite pastor trained and ordained in Canada, learnt how coffee processing corporations had long short-changed indigenous people in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, he decided to do something about it - writes Maurice Malanes.
Having become aware of their plight, Pantoja hit on a way to help the island's industrious but impoverished upland people out of their poverty by showing them how they could get a better deal for their Arabica coffee through fair trade.
"Before, big coffee corporations would buy the indigenous folk's coffee beans at bargain prices. Now, these tribes dictate their price," Pantoja told Ecumenical News International in November while in the upland town of La Trinidad to establish a partnership between the coffee growers and local business executives.
Big corporations used to buy [the] raw Arabica coffee beans of the Mindanao upland folk at 140 pesos (just over US$3) or less a kilo. Since January 2006, the indigenous folk have set a 200 peso (US$4.35) per kilo standard price for their coffee beans.
Pantoja and his family lived for 20 years in Vancouver, Canada, and he and his wife returned to the Philippines in 2005. They opted to live in the southern part of the country rather than in the capital, Manila.
The island's upland coffee growers were able to demand a standard pricing for their product after Pantoja and his staff worked with them and introduced the principles of fair trade in early 2006.
At the same time, Pantoja and his wife Joji helped establish Coffee For Peace, a corporation whose directors include local business executives, community leaders, creative communication professionals and academics.
These directors are all committed to advance the three-pronged promise of Coffee For Peace: to help alleviate [the poverty of] the lives of the farmers and their families, to protect and enhance the environment, and to support local peace builders.
"The corporation has become influential among our partner communities, so much so that when other companies would offer to buy their coffee beans, the upland folk would say, 'We can only sell at Coffee For Peace prices'," noted Pantoja.
Given its limited capital, Coffee For Peace buys only an average of one ton of green coffee beans from its farmer partners each harvest season, and exports these to fair trade outlets in Canada. "But we are happy that our partners have since been negotiating with other traders a better price for their product," Pantoja said.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]