What is your advocacy?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

I have been a coffee advocate for over 20 years now, and it started with my worry that our coffee supply might run out as farmers started selling off their lands in Cavite and Batangas. So it stemmed from a business risk mitigation that became a true passion for helping farmers. I am only so glad that many coffee lovers soon embraced the movement and now Philippine coffee has become a source of pride for many millennials and Gen Z caffeine takers. It did take a generation to feel the effects, but just the same, it is all positive. Maybe the only negative effect is the desire of some to make quick money by importing coffee and labelling it as “Philippine coffee.” But did you ever think “Philippine coffee” would have the cachet it has now?

We had many detractors who said it could not be done. Some said “coffee prices are dictated by men in blue suits at the New York Stock Exchange.” Well, not anymore. The farmer in Benguet now can dictate her price and find buyers for the prized crop. The farmer in Bukidnon sends me a message “Pick up ma’am. We don’t deliver.” This never happened 20 years ago.

Then in 2008, we opened a social enterprise where we worked with women’s groups who grew coffee, peanuts, cacao and herbs. Luckily, social enterprises are given a leg up by organizations who look for markets for their livelihood programs. That’s how we started our humble eco-friendly retail store. Today, every retail establishment like groceries, handicraft stores and supermarkets have community-sourced products with lesser-known brands, but they thrive with the Filipinos’ penchant for all things local. It has taken 14 years, but we are only too happy that there are more retailers who now give these women a chance to sell their value-added products.

Having seen results in 14 to 20 years, we know now that an advocacy intertwined with business can be an effective way to influence market preferences and taste profiles. The business style becomes easily replicable and this is why we now have social enterprises (helping farmers) and coffee businesses that are born overnight, though we hope they all become sustainable enterprises.

Because it is not always about the money. It is also because of an advocacy that people want to share and express through consumption and patronage. Like buying local, buying Filipino and everything native – these are no longer just for balikbayans and tourists. They make perfect corporate gifts because they say so much about your company, too. I am glad the importation of cheap company giveaways has lessened, if I were to judge by what gifts we get during Christmas and even tokens I get for speaking engagements. I now receive handmade gifts, local products from artisanal producers and almost always even coffee products. My heart is full.

So on to our next advocacy which is Food Security. Sustainability. How do we now ingrain and inculcate these ideas in the youth and make them successful like our advocacies in coffee and women empowerment?

• Start a local farm project. We planted coffee along with vegetables and herbs we can use and eat everyday. I observed that the visitors below 40 years old do not care much about the herbs and medicinal plants. The ones 40 and above are ecstatic to smell, touch and taste Nature’s bounty.

• Take them to a coffee farm. The young ones, 20-50 years old, are very engaged as they see how coffee grows from seed to tree to cup.

• Keep talking about heirloom species like Ark of Taste and Slow Food. Engage the youth in preserving native fruits and vegetables.

• Patronize local businesses that promote local food products so they can continue to buy from farmers or producers to make them sustainable.

So when they ask, what is your advocacy? Is it something you choose when you have made money and decide to help others? That is philanthropy, is it not?

Is it advocating for something to ensure business sustainability? That makes it a social enterprise, right?

Is it corporate social responsibility or CSR? That is when you do projects with communities you affect (like mining companies who plant vegetables in a mining site) or maybe groups that are totally divorced from your business but you help regularly (like a cancer ward in a hospital, unless your products cause cancer). Even in CSR, I believe it should be aligned to your business. Example: Binalot uses banana leaves from a community they support because banana leaves are part of Binalot’s raw materials. Or Jollibee buying onions from farmers for use in their commissary.

But what is an advocacy? Is it something you can live with for the next 20 years? It is standing up for someone who otherwise would not have a voice. It is finding a cause you care about and then getting involved with a group who shares your views. And that is what I learned when we joined Slow Food (www.slowfood.com). We educate, we advocate and we hopefully will influence policy makers to change our food system.

When I joined Slow Food’s Terra Madre in 2012, I had no idea how they expected to change the world through food. But as I got exposed to like-minded people in our activities, I began to understand it better. We can change the world, one person at a time. There are millions of members who can bring the ideas of Good, Clean and Fair food to their communities – all over the world.

This is my last year as a Councilor of Slow Food (like a congresswoman of sorts), purely voluntary pro bono work, and I hope that the new members of the Slow Food Council will carry on the cause for the next 10 years or more. It is not my business but Slow Food does influence what businesses we get involved in.

Think about it. Are you an advocate for a cause? Or is it just business?


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