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December 20, 2019

ORGANIC COFFEE—STILL AT IT, 15 YEARS AFTER

I first learned about organic coffee and the movement behind it when we went to attend the First Organic Coffee Conference in Kampala, Uganda in 2004. I was with Coffee Research expert Dr. Alejandro “Andy” Mojica and my business partners Robert and Reena Francisco. We tasted coffees from Africa which were organic by default as well as those with certification.

We learned about certification bodies and the organic bodies like the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (or IFOAM), got familiar with names like Naturland, Max Havelaar, and Demeter which are all European-based organizations. I was a fangirl meeting the officials and learning about terms specific to the organic movement such as Internal Control System (ICS), Organic in Conversion, and other organic definitions.

Naturland, LOAMCP-PH, ALGOA
Today, 15 years after, I am blessed to have met Marco Schlueter, International Development Manager of Naturland. We discussed our future plans for ECHOstore and Naturland. Marco also introduced me to the League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities, Cities and Provinces of the Philippines (LOAMCP-PH) headed by Vic Tagupa. He is also a member of the Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA), a regional body for organic Local Government Units (LGUs). The target is for 1.2 Million hectares of farms to be organic by 2022.

What brought me to appreciate organic coffee? The German Development Service ((which was called Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst (DED) and now called the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)), gave us a program to get organic coffee into export markets. We were assigned a German expert in organic farming, Roland Ferstl, who saw us through a three-year journey to get organic certification for some chosen farms—the Benguet State University (BSU) organic coffee farm and a farm in Tublay, Benguet owned by the Coromina Family. We met certifiers from the IMO, a Swiss certifier whose auditors assigned to us were based in Sri Lanka. It was an interesting but expensive process, but we did it. That was 2007.

Benguet State University

Working Towards a Better Future
So now we have come full circle. Naturland is in the Philippines certifying farmers who are organic, while my partners and I put up an organic-centered retail store called ECHOstore which means Environment, Community, Hope, and O may as well mean ORGANIC, as we journey into making more organic products available to the everyday consumer. And though people use the term loosely to mean naturally-farmed produce, we believe that “organic and natural” simply mean Traceability, Authenticity, Healthy, and Trust. It’s trust in your merchant, their farmers and suppliers, and trust that you are getting better products for your family. While Naturland works with farmers, ECHOstore works with consumers, and the twain shall meet in a world that is more health-conscious not just for consumers but the producers as well.

I remember preaching in coffee communities about the Internal Control System (ICS) like not mixing the storage of their coffee with chemical inputs, cement bags, and other non-organic stuff in their warehouse or garage. Dr. Ferstl and I went on a coffee tour of Kalinga, Ifugao, and Benguet to talk about organic coffee production. Who would have thought that in 2010 the government would come up with Republic Act 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act? That was just three years after our own organic journey.

And so here we go again—talking about “Going Organic”, but this time with no less than the ones who help the farmers become full organic practitioners—NATURLAND itself.

We live in interesting times, with the law protecting organic believers while it supports the small farmer who is usually organic by default because of the high cost of chemical inputs and the cost of labor which is hard to come by. What we need to do now is to educate consumers. What is organic? What is organic in conversion? What is organic by default?


Organic Coffee
This time, Marco and I will find a new coffee group who would go on the journey with us to practice organic coffee farming and to get a certification which is very important in export markets especially in Europe. It goes well with the Philippine coffee industry’s thrust to promote Philippine coffee abroad. We may as well be specialty coffee, and organic to boot.

So, why organic coffee? When the coffee is organic, it also benefits whatever cash crops the farmer produces—be it banana, papaya or pineapple. Thus, the whole farm becomes an organic source and this raises its profit potential. After all, organic produce commands a higher price and rewards the farmer for taking care not just of himself through farming practices that are beneficial to him but also to the ultimate consumer of his or her produce.

It’s a win-win-win for the farmer, consumer, and the environment. Organic is indeed beneficial for the whole supply chain.

 

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