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Coffee for Peace: economic-ecological transformation

   
 


Mennonite Church Canada General Secretary Robert J. Suderman cuts the ribbon to celebrate the official opening of Coffee for Peace’s new location.

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Coffee shop
Daniel Pantoja (left) and staff at the new location.

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September 12, 2008
- Janet Plenert

DAVAO, Philippines — The latte is artfully prepared and served with pride. A mango shake arrives with a sprig of mint gracing the top. Chairs are upholstered in locally hand-woven silk fabric.

This is not just any coffee shop; this is Coffee for Peace.

Coffee for Peace is celebrating the inauguration of a new and larger location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Special guests include private investors, Peacebuilders Community Inc. (PBCI), a peace network supported in part by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, as well as a Mennonite delegation consisting of Peter Stucky (Past President, the Mennonite Church of Colombia), Markus Regier (Moderator, the Mennonite Church of Switzerland), Naomi Unger (MC Canada representative to Mennonite World Conference), Robert J. Suderman (General Secretary, MC Canada) and his wife, Irene Suderman, and me.

Coffee for Peace is an example of economic-ecological transformation, one of four interconnected areas of change that PBCI is pursuing in their quest for lasting peace. Spiritual, psycho-social and social-political transformation are also integral.

“It was Joji’s idea,” says MC Canada Witness worker Dann Pantoja of his wife. “We were drinking coffee for the sake of peace with both sides in the conflict zone. We told one leader to leave his weapons outside and join us for coffee. We just listened to him talk. Then we had coffee with the guy he was fighting against, and we listened to him. Then we asked if they would be willing to have coffee with each other – and they did! So we began having coffee for peace. It was Joji’s idea to make it a brand name and open a shop.”

Coffee for Peace is a holistic, multi-faceted, for-profit business that supports local coffee growers and peace building initiatives. To back the idea, the Pantojas found local investors who believed in peace and loved coffee. “Each investor was asked to buy 10,000 pesos worth of coffee before we even had any coffee for sale,” Daniel Pantoja says.

Investors and all Coffee for Peace staff must demonstrate their commitment to peace by completing the Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) program offered by PBCI. If an investor does not take this training, his or her investment is not accepted. The shop’s corporate documents stipulate that the first 25% of each investor’s profit must be donated to the ministry of PBCI.

Coffee beans used in the shop and sold in packages are changing the production and marketing of coffee in the Philippines, affecting the local economy. Mindanao coffee growers have been neglecting Arabica coffee plants in favor of lower-paying Robusta plants because that is what large coffee companies will buy, yet 70% of world demand is for Arabica beans.

Working directly with local farmers, the Pantojas and PBCI are encouraging the revival of Arabica plants. Because Arabica plants grow in the shade, reforestation is required, providing a positive impact on the local ecology. Farmers are willing to make this shift because Coffee for Peace pays fair trade prices for the beans they buy.

New export markets are currently being sought, including fair trade businesses in North America. Coffee for Peace expects to soon sign a contract for the purchase and export of 50 tons of coffee per month.

The latest economic initiative of Coffee for Peace is directed toward the local hand-woven silk industry. Muslim friends of the Pantojas, Jehan Baraguir and her family, are engaged in the traditional art of fine weaving. With few local buyers and below-cost pricing, weaving is a dying art, yet it remains one of the major sources of income for the Baraguirs and many other families in the area.

Coffee for Peace purchased the Baraguirs’ cloth to cover their chairs and it sells the fabric in the coffee shop. It is currently negotiating with a non-governmental organization for a grant to expand fabric production and locate other fair trade markets, thus preserving a traditional art form and ensuring locally sustainable work.

In the meantime, coffee is being served and requests for franchises are beginning to arrive. It is highly inspiring to enjoy coffee in such a beautiful shop served by such passionate people, all of whom readily share the story of how Coffee for Peace is making a difference for the people of the Philippines.

For more information, check out the web site www.coffeeforpeace.org

Janet Plenert is the Executive Secretary, Mennonite Church Canada Witness.

PBCI is supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Peace Mennonite Church of Richmond, B.C., Waves Community Development Resources, Mennonite Central Committee, and Project Ploughshares.