Coffee for Peace co-founder wins Business for Peace Award

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 Sep) – Felicitas “Joji” B. Pantoja, a Mindanawon social entrepreneur who uses coffee as a vehicle to achieve peace in conflict-torn areas, was the only Asian to win the prestigious 2020 Oslo Business for Peace Award organized by the United Nations Global Compact and the Business for Peace Foundation.

Robusta coffee farmers of the Binaton Bagobo Tagabawa Farmers Livelihood Association from Barangay Binaton in Digos City, Davao del Sur are now packaging their coffee as BBTAFLA Fine Robusta Coffee. They are among those working in partnership with Coffee for Peace. Photo courtesy of Felicitas “Joji” B. Pantoja

Pantoja, chief executive officer and co-founder of Coffee for Peace, who has worked with several farmers in conflict-hit areas in Mindanao, won alongside American Marc Benioff, who is chair, chief executive officer, and co-founder of US-based Salesforce, and Kenyan Dr. James Mwangi, managing director and chief executive officer of Equity Group Holdings.

In an email to MindaNews, she said that the recognition given by an international body affirmed that their advocacy work is on the right track in promoting the culture of peace, amplifying the voices of the farmers to give them higher income to send their children to school, and protecting the environment.

“This is an honor for us Mindanawon because the business was conceptualized here in 2006, when we were doing our peacebuilding work with other peace advocates, registered in 2008, as a business that will support our peace advocacy and be sustainable,” she said.

Amid the reputation of Mindanao, she took pride that a company advocating for peace came into being, reflecting the desire of the people who are longing for peace.

Felicitas “Joji” B. Pantoja talks about coffee. Photo courtesy of Coffee for Peace

She thanked the people who made it possible for the concept of “Coffee for Peace” to grow, inspiring them to come up with an idea on how to bring conflicting parties together, make them sit together for a dialogue, and use coffee as a vehicle for peace.

“An idea that energized us to bring two people in conflict together, for a dialogue, to use coffee as a vehicle for peace, to ask the question: where are the coffee trees planted in Mindanao, and asking: are they good quality coffee. Put it all together, and we made a company called Coffee for Peace,” she said.

The social entrepreneur added that this recognition also brought hope and affirmed that “inclusive development can be a reality through social enterprise.”

She believed that building peace in areas that have suffered from decades-long armed struggle and improving the lives of marginalized groups could be achieved through economic stability.

“This recognition brings hope. It affirms the dreams and aspirations of our small farming partners, micro-enterprise partners, impact investors, and employees that there are respectable people in the business world who believe in and serve as ‘cheerleaders’ for us who struggle for economic justice,” Pantoja said.

According to the foundation, the Coffee for Peace “uses coffee production as a tool to address the economic, environmental and peace issues prevalent in conflict-affected communities.”

It added that the Davao City-based social enterprise provides sustainable livelihoods for indigenous and migrant groups in rural areas, getting over 880 farmers out of poverty and helping build coffee production capacity.

The local company focuses on “sustainable agriculture, peace and reconciliation between religious groups, environmental protection and entrepreneurship.”

The honorees of the award, which recognizes exceptional individuals who “exemplify the concept of being ‘businessworthy’ by ethically creating shared value for the economy and for society,” were selected by an independent committee of Nobel Prize winners in Peace and Economics after a global nomination process through four partners, including the UN Global Compact, the International Chamber of Commerce, the United Nations Development Programme and Principles for Responsible Investment.

In a previous interview, Pantoja said that one of the issues encountered by the coffee industry was the decline of its production as coffee farms were converted to banana, pineapple, papaya, and rubber plantations during the American rule.

She said the sudden plunge of the coffee prices in the world market in the 1980s nearly wiped out the coffee trees.

She added efforts had been undertaken by the government to increase the production level of the farmers, led by the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Agriculture, which started nursery projects to increase the number of available seedlings.

Pantoja noted an increase in the number of inquiries from prospective foreign buyers such as Europeans, Canadians, Americans, Taiwanese, and Koreans for the Arabica coffee in Mindanao.

The trainings conducted by the company for the farmers include peace and reconciliation, focusing on relationship-building among members of the conflict-affected community, and the importance of the environment, she said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)