DAVAO CITY — A social entrepreneur from Mindanao was the only Asian who won the prestigious 2020 Oslo Business for Peace Award.
Felicitas “Joji” B. Pantoja, co-founder of Coffee for Peace and who has worked with several farmers in conflict-hit areas, won alongside American Marc Benioff, who is chair, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Salesforce, and Kenyan Dr. James Mwangi, managing director and chief executive officer of Equity Group Holdings.
The prestigious award was organized by the United Nations Global Compact and the Business for Peace Foundation.
Pantoja, who is champions Mindanao coffee as a tool to achieve peace in the conflict-affected areas, said the recognition has brought hope, and affirmed that “inclusive development can be a reality through social enterprise.”
She believes that building peace in areas that have suffered from decades-long armed struggle and improving the lives of marginalized groups could be achieved through economic stability.
“This recognition brings hope. It affirms the dreams and aspirations of our small farming partners, micro-enterprise partners, impact investors, and employees that there are respectable people in the business world who believe in and serve as ‘cheerleaders’ for us who struggle for economic justice,” Pantoja said in a release published on the website of Business For Peace Foundation.
According to the foundation, the Coffee for Peace “uses coffee production as a tool to address the economic, environmental and peace issues prevalent in conflict-affected communities.”
It added that the Davao Citybased social enterprise provides sustainable livelihoods for Indigenous and migrant groups in rural areas, getting over 880 farmers out of poverty and helping build coffee production capacity.
The local company focuses on “sustainable agriculture, peace and reconciliation between religious groups, environmental protection and entrepreneurship.”
The foundation said that the honorees of the award, which recognizes exceptional individuals who “exemplify the concept of being ‘businessworthy’ by ethically creating shared value for the economy and for society,” were selected by an independent committee of Nobel Prize winners in Peace and Economics after a global nomination process through four partners, including the UN Global Compact, the International Chamber of Commerce, the United Nations Development Programme and Principles for Responsible Investment.
In a previous interview, Pantoja said one of the issues encountered by the coffee industry was the decline of its production as coffee farms were converted to banana, pineapple, papaya, and rubber plantations during the American rule.
She said the sudden plunge of the coffee prices in the world market in the 1980’s nearly wiped out the coffee trees.
Now, she said, efforts had been undertaken by the government, led by the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Agriculture, to increase the production level of farmers by starting nursery projects to increase the number of available seedlings.
Pantoja has noted increase in the number of inquiries from prospective foreign buyers such as Europeans, Canadians, Americans, Taiwanese, and Koreans for the Arabica coffee in Mindanao.
Coffee for Peace is training the farmers in Alamada town, North Cotabato, on the production of premium specialty Arabica beans to fill the coffee supply shortage in the country, she said.
She said her group is also working in conflicted communities around Mt. Apo, covering Davao Region and Soccsksargen, Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, and Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato.
She added that the training includes peace and reconciliation, focusing on relationship-building among members of the conflictaffected community, and the importance of the environment.
She said many of the coffee farmers in the communities they have worked with before failed to attain a specialty coffee quality due to the incorrect processes employed in farming and post-harvest.