Woman entrepreneur from Sulu to join Asean economic empowerment forum

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 October) — A woman social entrepreneur from Sulu is the sole participant from Mindanao to the two-day economic empowerment forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia next month.

In an interview on Saturday, Princess Kumala S. Elardo, a trustee of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, said she will join the “ASEAN Forum on Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship” slated on November 19 to 20, 2015.

The all-women forum is organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Elardo, chair of People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative which produces Sulu Royal Coffee, has been taking the lead in empowering locals since she started the coffee production movement in the province back in 2008.

She said most of the coffee farmers who joined the cooperative are former rebels who ventured into coffee production as a conduit of social change and economic development.

A former social worker, Elardo said she observed that to end the longstanding armed struggle in her home province, peace stakeholders must understand that military and political solutions are not enough.

They must also look at providing economic solutions, she said.

She said the cooperative takes pride that 334 families are now earning P10,000 monthly from the organic Arabica and Robusta coffee beans they are selling to the cooperative.

There are around 1,000 hectares of idle lands in Sulu, of which 300 has have been planted to coffee, she said.

Elardo said she has trained farmers in the proper methods of producing premium quality beans, from harvesting red cherries, to washing, to fermenting, to drying and to roasting.

It is necessary to pick the cherries at the pick of ripeness, she said, adding that the washing method allows them to sort out quality beans from those that are not as “the not-so good cherries float.”

The fermentation must be done for up to 24 hours to improve the taste and aroma of the coffee before it is dried and then roasted.

Elardo has grown the cooperative’s assets to P10 million.

During the 8th National Coffee Summit at the SMX Convention Center Davao last Thursday, Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. co-chair Pacita U. Juan said they pushing for the specialty coffee like the Sulu Royal Coffee in the international market.

Juan said this is the only means for the Philippines to compete globally amid the 70,000-metric ton deficit in local supply.

She said the most of the country’s annual coffee production are Robusta which are then processed into instant coffee while 10,000 MT are for the “roast and grind.”

Of the 10,000 MT, only 2,000 MT are produced as specialty coffee, which can compete in terms of quality with that of the coffee-producing regions of the world.

The Philippines’ annual coffee production is way below the annual consumption of 100,000 MT that it has to import from Vietnam and Indonesia to fill in the supply gap.

Aside from Arabica and Robusta, the other varieties grown in the Philippines are Excelsa and Liberica.

At least 70 percent of the country’s production is coming from the mountainous areas of Mindanao such as Davao Region, Bukidnon, and Sulu.

Juan added coffee farmers must take advantage of the zero tariff rates that will be implemented as the Asean Economic Community takes effect in December this year.

She highlighted the highland catimor coffee grown in Kapatagan, Digos City by businessman Sonny Dizon that won 1st runner up in the Syphon Category and 2nd runner up in the Espresso category during the Roaster’s Choice Awards last year. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)