Cordillera mountains set off business with social mission

- Arnel Medrano -
"Love can move mountains," so the saying goes, but a self-styled entrepreneur from the Cordilleras of northern Philippines is doing more than just moving mountains for the love of its farmers.

Mary Grace Arboleda-Young is bringing the best of the Cordillera, including its culture, to the rest of the Philippines and inspiring coffee farmers to grow the country’s finest native variety (arabica) all over that mountain range to earn regular income, increase their livelihood opportunities and have a decent living.

That, in a nutshell, is the social mission of Arboleda-Young’s Cordillera Coffee, which she describes as a "business for a cause" in presenting it to prospective franchisees, especially during the recently-concluded and highly-successful Franchise 2006 Expo at the World Trade Center Metro Manila.

Arboleda-Young’s Cordillera Coffee Co. is the proponent of the Coffee AID (Assistance for Indigenous Development), a volunteer program aimed at helping the backyard farmers of northern Philippines.

Now a non-government organization, Coffee AID is open to private individuals and groups who wish to help save Cordillera’s indigenous heritage and the livelihood of its coffee farmers by buying their quality produce in advance and at a very fair price.

Before, the coffee farmers were at the mercy of middlemen, who took advantage of their financial straits and bought their produce at extremely low prices.

"But now, the farmers who have signed up with Coffee AID are protected from such abuse as they get financial aid through advance payment based on the fair value of their produce," says Arboleda-Young.

At the same time, the farmers also help in reforesting the denuded portions of Cordillera by planting coffee and growing them organically, without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In turn, Cordillera Coffee, as a business, is assured of steady supply of high-quality organic arabica coffee beans that can compete with any of the world’s best, including the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain variety.

"Towards the new millennium, we saw the influx of big foreign coffeeshop brands, which have dominated the market, creating the impression that good coffee should always come from some place else. But what many Filipinos don’t know is that the world’s best coffee variety, arabica, is also native to the Philippines and grows in the Cordilleras," Arboleda-Young explains.

Known as the "king of coffee" arabica is grown in the shady mountains of the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR), where Arboleda-Young’s home province of Kalinga is an integral part of.

Born and raised in Kalinga, Arboleda-Young takes pride in Cordillera’s arabica, citing the great Filipino culture, character and soul that go into every cup that Cordillera Coffee serves in its branches along Xavierville Ave., Quezon City and in La Trinidad, Benguet.

Now Arboleda-Young is poised to spread that great Cordillera culture by franchising out the business to prospective investors, or franchisees, who will find it both profitable and socially rewarding.

This young entrepreneur, who used to sell Vigan jars, also brings the flavors of Cordillera to her coffeeshop business by introducing Mediterranean-inspired dishes with a "native twist" like the Cordillera Risotto, which is made up of highly-nutritious red upland rice mixed with mushroom, chamel sauce and longganiza, topped with mushroom bits and parmesan cheese. Cordillera’s longganiza has full garlic and meat flavor but is less sugary sweet, reflecting the moderate exotic taste of the North.

Chairperson Bing S. Limjoco of the Philippine Franchise Association, organizer of Franchise Expo, couldn’t help but shower praises on Cordillera Coffee for its unique business and social concept.

"Cordillera Coffee has the makings of another Jollibee, Goldilocks and other homegrown franchises that have succeeded in expanding locally and overseas to showcase the best of the Philippines in the global market," Limjoco says.











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