Jojo, second from the right, sits among farmers in Sitio Blo.
Before The Dream Coffee, Jojo Joson had yet to hear about coffee from T’Boli, South Cotabato. “It was in late 2016 when a friend of mine told me about T’Boli and its indigenous farmers who had arabica coffee growing, but without a market. When my wife and I went on an exploratory tour of the area in 2017, we saw that there were, indeed, arabica trees growing under forest cover in upland T’Boli. This was also when we met Sanon, one of our current community managers, and his wife, Dunisa, who expressed a strong interest to do an enterprise while helping T’boli farmers at the same time.”
Jojo started working with farmers in two sitios in 2017, conducting trainings on good agricultural practices and post-harvest processing with the help of an NGO, ACDI-VOCA. Throughout the trainings, a number of the farmers found the new practices and processes tedious—from processing and sorting to drying and packing—and their interest began to wane. But the few farmers who did try found success.
“It was also in the same year when the Peace and Equity Foundation provided a small grant and loan for the enterprise. With their funding, we were able to acquire two depulpers, construct around 20 elevated driers, and create a revolving fund for the purchasing of beans. This helped us build volume to create a market in Manila,” says Jojo.
Since 2017, when The Dream Coffee was piloted as a product, up to today, Jojo is directly involved with overseeing community managers and coffee farmers in T’Boli. He helped organize farmers into a registered association—the Knoon Highland Farmers Association—and was instrumental in bringing in support from the municipality of T’Boli, as well as from organizations like USAID's Protect Wildlife, Philippine Fiber Industry Development, and United Maligang Farmers Coop.
“In my 25 years of community development work and 10 years of corporate work, this new endeavor brings me back to the work I love best—being with rural families and sharing life with them,” Jojo says. “My main responsibility is to the communities I have committed to help, and we’ve agreed to make the enterprise profitable, sharing equitably on returns and ensuring that we continue to protect the forest where the coffee trees grow.”
As he turns 57 this year, Jojo shares that the hardest part of his job is going to far-flung communities, which takes up to a seven-hour hike on top of a one-hour habal-habal ride on rugged terrain. But it’s worth it, he says. “It is so fulfilling when you meet families once you reach their communities, and when they exchange stories of how their lives are improving with the enterprise.”