On Saturday evening the PeaceBuilders team’s Isuzu Trooper, parked beside the cinderblock and sawali home of Joe Randy and Marivic Dubria, was the only operational four-wheeled vehicle in the village of Purok Pluto. Coffee for Peace Warehouse Manager Byron Pantoja, his veins filled with ice water, had piloted the bucking Trooper and the jostled PeaceBuilders team over the dilapidated dirt road as it wound upwards into the foothills of Mount Apo, to the west of Davao City. A ways down the hill from the Dubrias’ house, the team had passed the only other vehicle in the area: a jeep so badly stranded that we had to squeeze past it a second time on our way down the hill the next afternoon.
After spending Saturday night with Joe Randy, Marivic, and their two children, we rose early on Sunday morning and accompanied a group of Purok Pluto’s farmers into the coffee fields to observe and participate in the harvest of the coffee cherries which the farmers were to deliver to Coffee for Peace’s Davao office the next morning. As we hung the plastic collection buckets about our necks and followed the farmers down the slope into the rows of coffee trees, the chilly morning fog lifted to reveal a marvelous view of blue mountains surrounding the glinting water of the Gulf of Davao. Soon the high mist burned away, and the brilliant upland sunlight cast black shadows beneath the leaves of the coffee trees, and made the red cherries gleam like cinders. The team’s two Caucasian members had forgotten our sunscreen, and our skin was swiftly baked to a salmon hue which amused the farmers. The PeaceBuilders and the farmers filled their buckets with red coffee cherries and trooped back up the slope to the shade of Lyn’s Store.
Sitting beneath the roof of an open-fronted shed attached to the store, Marivic, Pluto resident Joy John, and store proprietor Lynlyn Panolino removed green, damaged, and rotten cherries from a pile of reds heaped on a net. I sat down beside them with my notebook, and they told me a bit about the customs of coffee harvesting. In order for the owner of a coffee field to bring in a harvest, she usually needs three harvesters in addition to herself. These extra hands receive their pay in coffee: one kilogram out of every five that each harvests. Harvesters of vegetables, on the other hand, are paid in cash: 15 pesos per bundle of spring onions, or 150 pesos for a day of pulling carrots. The harvesters’ willingness to be paid in coffee reveals their high regard for coffee as a commodity whose value is proven and generally invariable. An old man looking on as the women sorted cherries gestured toward the pile. “So much money here,” he said. Marivic gleefully quoted Dire Straits’ description of affluence which begins “money for nothing…”
Yet, as the women described their farming life, they expressed frustration at the broad reality of hard work for small returns. In America, they asserted, if you have a vineyard or a farm, you are the rich person. But not here. “Why is that?” demanded Marivic turning on me suddenly and gazing intently in my eyes. I had to tell her that I have no idea.
The next morning, at the PeaceBuilders and Coffee for Peace offices in Davao, Marivic’s brother-in-law Ariel Dubria and his wife Nening were in good spirits. They were collecting their check from CFP, and taking part in the wet-processing of the coffee cherries which they and their fellow farmers had just brought from Purok Pluto in the farmers’ own truck. Nening told me that the money from CFP helps them a lot. Coffee pays better than vegetables, and whereas vegetables can only be harvested once every three months, coffee harvests come every two weeks. Ariel says that, by participating in the wet-processing conducted at the Davao office every time he and the farmers deliver a shipment, he is learning enough that he will be able to wet-process coffee cherries in Purok Pluto once the Department of Trade and Industry gives the farmers a pulping machine. When that happens, the earning power of these farmers, who today live in dirt-floored shacks and must haul their produce down to the passable sections of road on horses and overladen scooters, will increase enormously. With support and training from PeaceBuilders, and with assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry, they may one day be able to claim a just recompense for their labors.