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Women are beautiful—which also explains why we love beautiful things and keep them like that. The secret to making this beauty last can summed up in two words: best practices.

I learned about the importance of best practices from the Asian Productivity Organization, a regional intergovernmental organization that promotes productivity to achieve sustainable socioeconomic development. Site visits to select organizations and SMEs in Japan showed me how learning and applying best practices propelled their success.

I was amazed and was on the lookout for similar stories in our homeland. Two of the exceptional ones that I discovered are the in the highlands of Benguet and the vast shorelines of Sulu. Here is their story on best practices.

The Tuba Benguet Coffee Growers Association (TUBENCOGA) was organized in 2007 with only 35 members. Now, the community has 129 members—95 of whom are women.

Shirley Ignacio Palao-ay—who has been a coffee farmer since 2010—is the chairperson of TUBENCOGA. “People need to plant 50 seedlings before they become members,” she shares.

In 2012, propelled by her desire to improve the quality of her coffee, Shirley signed up for a class about packaging and technology. She shared what she learned with her community. The result was coffee with better quality and higher yield.

“It all starts with a seed, so make sure you select the good ones. Visit your trees not just during harvest time. By doing so, you are able to prevent pests. Clean it regularly and put compost. These will ensure more cherries. When they bloom, pick the ones in the middle,” reveals Shirley.

When I asked about their women members, Shirley beamed with pride because they are the active pickers. They are more diligent. “There’s something about picking red coffee cherries. It relieves stress,” she says with a laugh. TUBENCOGA applies wet and semi-wet processing. The members meet every 15th of the month to make sure these best practices are discussed and constantly applied.

Shirley’s lifelong commitment to farming coffee has, indeed, borne fruit in every sense. She and Dr. Val Macanes—her mentor in the packaging and technology class in 2012—were proclaimed by CQI’s international cuppers as two of the top ten producers of quality Philippine Arabica coffee in the recent Kape Pilipino Green Coffee Quality Grading Competition. Dr. Val ranked second and his student ranked eighth.

So much has been written about Princess Kumala Sug-Elardo because her success story is a classic. She’s a bai, the Muslim term for princess. Despite her royal stature living in an area where armed clashes periodically occur hampered the development of her community. Unfazed by these challenges, Princess Kumala tended her farm and strived to live her life to the fullest.

Princess Kumala attended the coffee seminars with her friend in Davao because of her desire to learn more. She explains, “(There are) so many best practices. I thought I already know what they are. When I attended the Coffee Origins back in 2008, I discovered that there are more. I went back to Sulu and confidently applied these [in my community].” That was the start of People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

Princess Kumala further recalls, “I encouraged (the community) to join me because I know that someday it will lead to our progress. It did. When we improved the quality of coffee, our lives improved as well. We now have a stable water supply, electricity, health center, town hall, market, and a concrete road.”

Some of the products offered by People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative

She observed that the women in her community are more careful in picking and can be relied on to clean the tree. When they wash the coffee, it’s really clean. They also check if it had the right amount of dryness. “In fact, if you check our records, our members who are in good standing are women. Our love for beautiful things shows in our work. Women are more focused,” she adds.

One of the women inspired by Princess Kumala ensures that the quality of coffee can be seen in every bean by following the quality processes she learned.

To this day—along with the staggering growth of membership in the People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative—the community benefits from the significant income from farming coffee. It it no surprise then that Princess Kumala garnered awards from the public and private sectors.

Anyone can claim that they love coffee—but those who have true passion for it will aim for quality. Shirley and Princess Kumala did not just learn and apply their best practices. They shared it. That’s the beauty of it all.



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