It is wonderful to wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. Its warm, rich taste will prepare anyone for a full day ahead. Coffee is now inculcated in culture, from a stimulating drink during power meetings or a relaxing refreshment on slow afternoons at the café. Drinking coffee is now a part of everyday life, but, do you ever wonder where that delightful cup comes from? Your coffee drink may come from the harvest of Ricardo, a Mangyan coffee grower at Paitan, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.
Ricardo Guarde Lintawagin is one of the second batch of coffee growers trained under the IP LED Program. He is a 79-year old farmer whose livelihood depends on a one-hectare land filled with coffee, coconuts, calamansi, and lanzones. Ricardo learned coffee-growing when he was only 12 years old in 1954 while working for a coffee farm he did not own. The Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title has not been awarded to the Mangyans and most of the farmers worked on land owned by someone else. This resulted to the numerous struggles of the Mangyans as they try to cope with the fast-changing cultures and technologies that surround them, including the threats of mining that would damage their land and environment. Ricardo, at 79, still largely relies on income he earns from coffee-growing for his and his family’s sustenance.
The IP LED Program sought to empower people like Ricardo who belongs to indigenous communities and organizations, such as the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mangyan Alangan (SANAMA) in Paitan. Ricardo, along with numerous Mangyan coffee growers started out with traditional practices such as binayati or the drying of unpeeled coffee berries, pinulot or the manual picking of coffee berries from the ground, and rambol or the random mixing of coffee berries. Such practices resulted to lower quality coffee berries that decreased revenues. They also struggled with unpredictable market situations and consistent haggling of farm products in the local market. Due to his lack of education, Ricardo often felt that he was unable to transact business properly and believed he was cheated in the market place. He earned as little as P10 per cup of coffee berries. This is a struggle that Ricardo and the Mangyan farmers face in their livelihood.
There was a need for the IP LED Program to develop mechanisms for indigenous communities such as the Mangyans to proactively respond to realities and challenges they face in everyday life. Coffee-growing is environmentally sound and sustainable, particularly in Paitan. Its location at the foot of Mount Halcon, the 18th highest peek in the Philippines, has favorable climate and altitude for coffee-growing. Ricardo, along with his fellow Mangyan coffee-growers, has the potential to produce export quality beans, particularly excelsa and liberica coffee. The difficulty lies with the limitation of their knowledge and the oppressive market system. The IP LED Program strives to address such issues through trainings and development programs for the indigenous communities.
Ricardo was one the forty Mangyan coffee growers to be trained by the IP LED Program. They were instructed how to enhance their traditional technologies on coffee production with proper harvesting and post-harvesting activities such as sorting of coffee berries, pulping, hulling, drying, and rejuvenation of coffee trees after harvesting. Particularly important is the sorting of the coffee berries, as the higher quality coffee berries should sell for a higher price, compared to the unsorted berries they were forced to sell at the market for a lower price. Rejuvenating the trees is also crucial in keeping the livelihood sustainable for the coffee growers. The improvements in farming practices significantly elevated the quality of their coffee production and enabled the farmers to engage in a fairer business strategy. The community training program was led by Rizalito Benito, an IP LED fellow who received the first batch of training.
The community-based approach of the IP LED Program addressed not just the quality of the coffee berries they produce, but also the interpersonal relationships within the Mangyan community. The Mangyans were able to work with Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development, as Tugdaan buys coffee berries from SANAMA farmers such as Ricardo. Together, they were able to raise and stabilize the price of coffee, as well as help each other maintain their coffee farms. From fellows such as Ricardo, they were able to pass on the knowledge they learned about the technologies and strategies in the coffee growing industry. They are now able to teach their children coffee-growing and creating their own coffee farm. The Mangyan community was able to raise their social and economic conditions because of the knowledge they gained in coffee-growing.
Ricardo, along with his family and his community felt the improvement in their quality of life, yet he still dreams of something more. He still yearns for the day that they will reclaim their ancestral domains, as Mangyans should be able to use and develop their own land. Ricardo also aspire for a university to be established within their community, so their children will have an easy access to higher education. He still believes that students should finish their education in order to reach their dreams. The training program given by Assisi Development Foundation, Hope International Development Agency, and Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development is just a beginning in the continuing empowerment of indigenous communities such as the Mangyans.
The rich aroma and strong bitter taste of coffee in the morning contains within it the labors and dreams of coffee-growers around the Philippines and the world, including Ricardo. Through time, there were marked improvements in their situation, but the struggle is still real. There is a need to ensure the sustainability of the livelihood of indigenous communities. Furthermore, it is also important to continue empowering indigenous communities as they face the struggles of the fast-changing technologies and everyday life. From breakfasts to meetings, it is important to remember where the coffee comes from, and the farmers who grew them.
• Stands for Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mangyan Alangan (United Association of Mangyan Alangan)
• Established on September 27, 1987 as a Mangyan people’s organization
• Registered to the Securities and Exchange Commission
• Has over 5,000 members, covering 5 barangays in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro
• Most of the members grow calamansi, coffee, and coconut; others gather wild honey and other forest products