Last 17-22 May 2024, I, Joji Pantoja, Board Chair and President of Coffee for Peace, had the privilege of traveling to the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan in the southern Philippines. Accompanying me on this journey was Joseph “Ka Boyet” Ongkiko, Executive Vice President of PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. Our mission was clear and purposeful: to explore the potential for developing a sustainable coffee industry in these regions, fostering both economic growth and peace. We were invited by Maradeca Inc., a dedicated local non-governmental organization, and People in Need (PIN), a reputable international NGO. Both organizations recognized the transformative potential of coffee farming in these provinces and sought our expertise in designing a comprehensive training program for the local coffee farmers. This is part of the LEAP Project (Leveraging and Expanding Agri-Aqua Production), a groundbreaking initiative by PIN designed to boost economic development in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The Island Provinces: Basilan, Sulu, and TawiTawi

Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa) are provinces that encapsulate the diverse and dynamic nature of the southern Philippines. Their geographical beauty, historical richness, political significance, economic potential, and cultural vibrancy make them unique regions with much to offer. Efforts to promote peace, stability, and development continue, aiming to unlock the full potential of these fascinating island provinces.

BaSulTa is a part of the Sulu Archipelago, located between the Mindanao island of the Philippines and the island of Borneo. These provinces are characterized by their tropical climate, lush forests, and diverse marine ecosystems. Basilan, the largest island in the archipelago, is known for its mountainous terrain and fertile lands. Sulu consists of numerous smaller islands and is renowned for its coral reefs and marine biodiversity. Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost province, features picturesque landscapes and pristine beaches.

Historically, these provinces have been significant trading hubs, linking the Philippines with other parts of Southeast Asia. The Sultanate of Sulu, established in the 15th century, played a crucial role in the region’s history, exerting influence over the archipelago and beyond. This sultanate was a powerful maritime state known for its trade and cultural exchanges with China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The colonial era brought Spanish, American, and Japanese influences, each leaving its mark on the region’s development.

Politically, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi are part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), established to provide greater autonomy to Muslim-majority areas in Mindanao. The BARMM government aims to address historical grievances and promote peace and development in these regions. Governance in these provinces involves a mix of traditional leadership, such as the Sultanates, and modern political structures.

The economies of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi are predominantly based on agriculture and fishing. Basilan is known for its rubber and coconut plantations. Sulu’s economy benefits from seaweed farming, fishing, and trading activities. Tawi-Tawi, with its rich marine resources, focuses on fishing and seaweed cultivation. Efforts are ongoing to diversify these economies, with initiatives aimed at developing tourism, improving infrastructure, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

Culturally, these provinces are vibrant and diverse, with a rich tapestry of traditions, languages, and practices. The Tausug, Yakan, and Sama-Bajau are among the prominent ethnic groups, each contributing to the region’s cultural heritage. Traditional music, dance, and crafts, such as weaving and boat-making, are integral to the local culture. The region’s predominantly Muslim population celebrates various Islamic festivals, with cultural practices deeply rooted in their faith.

A Continuation of Last Year’s LEAP Engagement

Last August 2023, our PBCI-CFP IncluDev Team was invited by PIN and by Maradeca, Inc. to conduct a facilitators’ seminar among their senior staff members as part of their LEAP Project (Leveraging and Expanding Agri-Aqua Production). LEAP stands as a significant initiative by PIN, aimed at bolstering economic development in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). This project, meticulously crafted in alignment with the European Union’s mandate, emerged from a comprehensive internal assessment and extensive interviews with various stakeholders. LEAP’s mission is clear: to strengthen the resilience of agricultural and aquaculture value chains, with a particular emphasis on coffee, seaweed, and the potential for intercropping these two vital resources.

Assessing the Readiness of Coffee Farming Communities

Before delving into the specifics of training, it was crucial for us to gauge the enthusiasm and readiness of the coffee farming communities. Understanding their commitment and willingness to adopt coffee farming as a business was paramount. We required an on-the-ground assessment to ensure that our efforts would be met with genuine interest and participation. Our visit to these communities was eye-opening. We were warmly welcomed by farmers who were eager to learn and improve their livelihoods. The rich, fertile lands of Sulu and Basilan, coupled with the dedication of the farmers, presented a promising opportunity for cultivating high-quality coffee. However, it was also evident that significant challenges needed to be addressed, particularly in terms of training and community involvement.

Enhancing Training Programs for Deeper Community Involvement

During our interactions, we realized that while Maradeca Inc. had laid a solid foundation, there was a need for more intensive community involvement training. The workers at Maradeca Inc. demonstrated a strong commitment to their mission but required additional skills and knowledge to effectively manage coffee plantations and support the farmers.

Boyet, with his extensive experience in community development and peacebuilding, recommended a Teacher of Teachers (ToT) Training program. This initiative aimed to equip the staff of Maradeca Inc., People in Need (PIN), and municipal workers with the necessary skills to train and support the farmers effectively. By focusing on the ToT model, we could ensure that the knowledge and expertise would be cascaded down to the farmers, fostering a self-sustaining system of continuous learning and improvement.

A Collaborative Path Forward

The collaborative efforts between Coffee for Peace, PeaceBuilders Community, Maradeca Inc., and People in Need underscored the importance of unity in achieving our goals. By working together, we could address the multifaceted challenges faced by the coffee farming communities and pave the way for sustainable development.

Our proposed training program would encompass various aspects of coffee plantation management, including sustainable farming practices, post-harvest processing, and market access strategies. Moreover, the ToT training would incorporate elements of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, essential for fostering a harmonious and cooperative community environment.

Our visit to Sulu and Basilan was a testament to the power of collaboration and the potential for positive change. The readiness and enthusiasm of the coffee farmers, combined with the commitment of local and international NGOs, laid a strong foundation for a thriving coffee industry in these regions.

As we move forward, our focus remains on empowering the communities through education, training, and continuous support. By nurturing both the land and the people, we aim to cultivate not just coffee, but also peace and prosperity in Sulu and Basilan.

This journey reaffirmed my belief in the transformative power of sustainable agriculture and the importance of fostering strong community ties. Together, we can create a future where coffee farming serves as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for peace in these beautiful island provinces.

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2024/05/24/were-glad-to-be-involved-in-a-collaborative-coffee-industry-development-in-basulta/

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