View from the field

Basil and Vie: two entrepreneurs impacting the coffee landscape of the Philippines
Monica Ochoa Rodriguez, intern at IIX

Driven by the passion of hiking the Filipino mountains, Basil Reyes, founder of Bote Central, a coffee producing social enterprise, discovered what would turn out to be the next step in his inventor career journey. During his trips to the mountains, he would come across trees that were home to the civet cat, a very special mammal whose digestive enzymes add a fragrant aroma and unique flavor to coffee beans. This discovery led him to conduct more research into the coffee landscape in the Philippines.

Together with his wife, Vie, Basil discovered that despite Philippines’ optimal conditions to harvest coffee, the country was a net importer of coffee beans. This led to his decision to take on the challenge of reviving the country’s coffee industry. First, they found that coffee prices were highly unattractively priced, encouraging farmers to switch to alternative higher-yield crops instead. After studying the market’s potential, the couple decided to join the coffee industry and started buying beans from local farmers at prices they considered to be fair. This created a new way of thinking that embraced fair trade principles. Over time, this practice of fair-trade changed the country trading practices, incentivizing farmers to start growing coffee as an alternative source of employment for local communities once again.

In parallel, Basil and Vie observed that farmer communities were, at the same time, coffee consumers. However, it turned out that they costs of roasting coffee were to high preventing them from consuming their own coffee. Roasting machines were only available for industrial use and, more importantly, only for even beans (same size and quality). Recognizing this gap, Basil’s next invention took place: he built a compact machine that would roast beans of different sizes and quality with minimum energy requirements and ease of operation. Through the Philippine Coffee Alliance and INGOs, the machines were widely distributed among farmer communities enabling them to sell coffee that was ready for consumption. Inevitably, this created a value-shift from merchants to farmers.

The arrival of these machines in the communities incentivized the creation of farmer associations that would take charge of operating the machines and commercializing the ground coffee. In most communities, it was the women who managed these associations and operated the machines. Remarkably, this created new job opportunities that empowered them and equalized the gender disparity in an environment that compelled women to stay at home due to the lack of opportunities.
Bote Central led other initiatives, such as the Philippine Coffee Alliance, an organization which explores opportunities to scale up distribution of roasting machines to the farmer communities and provides training across the coffee value chain. At the last step of this supply chain, Bote Central operates coffee kiosks where Filipinos could buy fresh coffee roasted within 18-days of different varieties, including their own brand for the civet coffee beans, Alamid Coffee.

Besides promoting sustainable practices among the farmers, Bote Central has been actively advocating for non-caged Civets. In fact, Alamid Coffee is only made with beans of Civet cats that are not captured or caged. Ensuring civets can roam freely not only guarantees better quality coffee because the mammals have a more active and healthy lifestyle, but also enforces local communities to protect the forest which is their natural habitat.

I feel deeply fortunate to have had the chance to visit Bote Centra, to meet with Basil and Vie and to see first-hand how this dynamic duo have impacted the coffee landscape and many local communities in the Philippines.