KORONADAL, South Cotabato – Mt. Matutum last erupted in 1911.
It has been silent since. Still, rising at 7,500 feet above sea level with a base diameter of 25 kilometers, it dominates the landscape, in the middle of a vast plain that stretches to the horizon.
On its slope live the B’laan tribe – and the civet. And there tells a tale of coffee.
Fred Fredeluces is an enterprising local who started Greentropics Coffee Enterprise in 2007 to promote local coffee, with a twist – to uplift 150 upland B’laan households and provide the reason to maintain the upland environment.
In the process, the business plan includes protecting the mountain civet, the source of the exotic and very expensive civet coffee.
The enterprise was set up in Polomolok, South Cotabato to sustain the income of B’laan coffee farmers through fair trade principles and practices.
And it worked. The upland B’laans increased the organic cultivation of Arabica and Robusta beans, extending coffee-growing areas to 162 hectares.
Fredeluces, 57, used to work with a non-government organization. Since the 1980s, he has worked with Blaan coffee farmers from Matutum, teaching them better harvesting and processing methods to improve their coffee yields. Thus, he earned the monicker Arabica coffee production guru,
But it was not until 2008 when he taught Blaan farmers to collect civet coffee knowing this variety had premium and would therefore give growers a higher income.
For Fredeluces, Greentropics Coffee Enterprise is not solely focused on entrepreneurial expansion, but it advocates ethical coffee farming.
The civet cats called by the Blaan coffee farmers as Balos are not caged, but they are left in the wild and are naturally allowed to feed on the coffee cherries.
Appreciation of the B’laan way of cultivating coffee contributed to the preservation of indigenous culture, heritage, knowledge and skills. The community now has more food on the table with the extra income for clothing, housing, health care and higher education.
Fredeluces bought and processed the beans, including civet coffee. In the process, because the exotic civet beans are expensive, locals were encouraged to preserve the forest cover and watershed and enhance biodiversity conservation and protection.
“With his long bond with the B’laaans and through community partnership, he transformed lives for sustainable peace and development,” said Dr. Zenaida Laidan, who oversees the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SET UP) of the Department of Science and Technology for Region 11.
SET UP is a nationwide strategy to improve the productivity and competitiveness of micro, small and medium enterprises through technology transfer and commercialization and technical consultancy.
SET UP helps firms buy appropriate technologies, the acquisition cost amortized in equal monthly installments for three years without interest.
Fredeluces was able to acquire a P975,000 facility from SET UP. Most of that went to the acquisition of new equipment such as a coffee roasting machine, dot matrix stamper machine, grinder, moisture tester, sorter and an automatic machine that fills beans and ground coffee in attractive packages.
The idea was to increase efficiency in coffee processing and up the volume of production.
The SET UP package included product testing and standardization; technology training; nutrition labeling; food safety; manufacturing productivity; product promotion; and the design of a plant layout.
With the new layout, production and processing was transferred from a home-based working area 10 square meters in size to a 50-sq.m. plant with food safety features.
Package labels indicating expiry dates enabled buyers to see the freshness of the coffee. Sorting efficiency increased from 10 kilograms to 300 kg per hour. Roasting capacity doubled from 10 kg to 30 kg an hour, said Laidan.
“Consistent roasting quality tripled monthly sales,” she said, adding that annual production increased from 5,000 kg to 25,000 kg.
New markets now include coffee shops and hotels in and outside of General Santos City – as well as exports to the United States and Canada.
“The firm had developed its brand and penetrated more local and international markets, increasing its annual income from half a million pesos to P3 million,” said Laidan.
Employment increased from 15 workers to 276 now. “The enterprise enhanced the confidence and sense of importance of upland dwellers,” Laidan observed.