Business As Usual

Power women in coffee farming

Jerni May H. Camposano - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - There are people who just can’t function unless they have a cup of coffee in the morning. While you enjoy your cuppa joe, have you thought about the processes involved or the people who are responsible for your daily dose of caffeine fix?

In the Philippines, there are nearly 276,000 coffee farms, with about 79.4 million trees, based on data from the 2002 Census of Agriculture. The industry is dominated by small farmers, according to the Department of Agriculture.

To promote industry sustainability, leading coffee brand Nescafé works with various stakeholders in the Philippine coffee industry. In 2010, Nestlé rolled out the Nescafé Plan, a global initiative that supports responsible coffee farming, production, and consumption.

In the Philippines, women have been actively playing a role in transforming coffee farm management to create shared value for working and future generations of coffee farmers. Agronomists Jereme Laurente and Karen dela Cerna are two important players in the Nescafé Plan’s collaborative effort with various stakeholders in the local coffee industry.

Laurente, an Agriculture graduate from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, has been an agronomist for the past 16 years. After working for more than a decade for a banana plantation company in Mindanao, Jeremie joined Nestlé and was tasked to handle, check, and monitor facilities and operations in Regions 10 and 13.

“We give free training to farmers, those who are yet to start coffee farming and the existing ones who want to develop and gain more knowledge about coffee,” says Laurente. “The training aims to give them an overview of the coffee market: from the basics of planting until harvesting coffee while at the same time providing hands-on training to the participants.”

For dela Cerna, who came from a family of agriculturists and finished a degree in Agribusiness Economics from UP Mindanao, fieldwork was what suited her better than a desk job. After working in the field as a research assistant for an agricultural project, dela Cerna found her calling and continued working closely with farmers.

“I saw that through our efforts to educate them, their family’s lives become better. When I joined Nestlé, I love it that we help farmers improve their income along the chain. We know they can earn more – like how they cultivate their land, how to earn post-harvest, how they can market their produce with better prices. Nestlé is with them every step of the way to increase their income,” explains dela Cerna.

According to Laurente, 70 percent of the volume of coffee beans that Nescafé purchases annually is produced in Northern Mindanao. Through the Nescafé Plan, the company has forged partnerships with the government to roll out programs to strengthen coffee farming in these regions.

“Our facilities there are for seedling production. We also have composting operations, which are given to farmers for free. These are waste products from factories that we convert to fertilizers that our farmers can use. There are also demo farms that we made accessible to farmers for them to learn about new technologies in coffee farming,” she explains.

Laurente says that about three to five percent of the more than 3,000 farmers in her regions are women. “In Northern Mindanao, the role of women in coffee farming is more on decision-making and financing,” she observes. “It’s usually the women, the wives, who decide on matters such as expansion or procurement of additional equipment as well as marketing the goods. They are the ones who attend trainings because the men are hard at work in the field. So in terms of education and knowledge, the women farmers play a big role especially when they share their knowledge from the trainings and influence decisions.”

Dela Cerna adds that in the whole process of coffee farming—planting, harvesting, weeding, rejuvenation, sorting, and buying—a woman’s trademark traits of being detail-oriented and patient are significant factors. “In harvesting, if you want quality, you need to pick just the red ones from the green ones because our coffee here in the Philippines has a unique characteristic. Women also have the eye for detail when it comes to sorting. They sort because they aim for a better price which is Grade 1 for Nestlé,” she explains.

Laurente and dela Cerna admit that the job is not easy. There are times when they have to walk a few kilometers or climb mountainous and rugged terrains to reach coffee farmers. They reveal that there are roads even a motorcycle could not tread so they walk together with the farmers. Security, especially in certain areas of assignment, is also a factor to consider.

But both find fulfillment and a different kind of high whenever they see coffee farmers succeed and live a better life, thanks to their hard work and patience to reach out to them. These two power women also acknowledge that there is an exchange of knowledge whenever they deal with coffee farmers: they train them on the processes and technology while also learning about this particular industry from the experience and expertise of the local farmers.

“The coffee farmers have become our extended family. For them to welcome us into their homes, that is priceless,” muses Laurente.

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