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Coffee Stimulates Improved Lives in Philippines

By Jennifer Hardy

Not many people would cry about coffee. Maybe some feel like crying after discovering they've run out on a particularly brutal morning. For most people, coffee is simply a comforting ritual that fuels hectic lives.

Jocel

Jocel Gamboa stands next to her new cement home, built with profits from her coffee farm on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Her old wooden home is in the background. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

But for Jocel Gamboa, a coffee farmer on the Philippine island of Mindanao, coffee provides more than a caffeine-enhanced burst of energy. Since she began participating in a Catholic Relief Services program for coffee farmers, her improved crop has brought into her life a used motorcycle for transportation, a chainsaw to help with pruning trees, and, most important, a new and healthier home for her family.

Jocel tears up a little when she talks about coffee, an improved harvest and the increased prices she can get through bulk sales with other farmers.

Dina Fortich, an officer with the program, says that "grouping farmers into clusters allows them to directly negotiate the price of their coffee products with appropriate buyers. With a better price, the farmers are able to sell their crop at a higher profit and, subsequently, improve the lives of their families."

CRS' local partner Kasilak Development Foundation showed Jocel and fellow farmers that they will produce a higher-quality crop when they harvest only ripe and mature coffee berries. They've also begun drying the beans and removing the shells before selling the coffee. By providing a better-quality product and marketing their coffee beans as a group, Jocel attracts a better price.

"I used to sell a kilo of coffee for [$1.30]," she says. "Through the trainings in the program, I learned how to negotiate and to provide a better product. The last time I sold my harvest, I received [$2.16] per kilo."

The additional income of nearly $1 may seem small, but is significant when multiplied by the nearly 2,000 pounds Jocel sold. Most of the construction costs for her new home came from that additional income. It's when she glances at the house that Jocel feels overwhelmed with the changes for her family over the last 2 years.

Filipino coffee farmer Hilarion Bangot

Filipino farmer Hilarion Bangot checks on his new coffee seedlings provided by CRS through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and CRS local partner Kasilak Development Foundation. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

"This house stands as a testament of the challenges I've overcome," she says. "It's a pillar in the community about what is possible with hard work. This house represents hope."

Jocel credits the financial management training she received through the program with helping her to quickly save enough to begin construction.

"I learned how to handle small amounts of money from my family growing up," she explains, "but it is good to get training on how to handle the extra money that came in from the harvests. Extra income takes different skills to manage."

Jocel and her family look forward to larger harvests in the future, thanks to the additional coffee seedlings she received from CRS with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And, as an elected leader in the community, Jocel sees her role as one of helping her neighbors share knowledge of new farming and marketing practices.

"Of more than 400 households in this village, only five people are not farmers. This is a farming community. I want to bring trainings on better coffee growing practices to everyone."

Jocel is a woman with big plans for her family and wider community. And coffee drinkers can be assured that family farmers like her are improving their harvests to keep our morning brew flowing well into the future.

Jennifer Hardy is CRS' regional information officer for Asia and the Pacific Rim. She is based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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