Pursuing a more eco-friendly lifestyle has now taken centerstage, with external disruptions, like the Covid19 pandemic, advancing its relevance even further. However, as much as many echo this note-worthy sentiment for more sustainable alternatives – a stable and more systemic approach is required to make our dream a reality. I reached out to no less than Pacita “Chit” Juan to learn what kind of ecosystem is needed to be in place in order to make sustainable living and sustainable shopping more mainstream.
Unwittingly, Chit may have served as the champion for sustainable sourcing in the country. As founder of the Figaro Coffee chain, she was determined to source coffee locally during a time when coffee production in the country was still in its infancy stage. Currently serving as President of the Philippine Coffee Board, she has been helping the coffee industry for about 26 years now, increasing coffee production nationwide and facilitating market linkages.
In a podcast interview with Business Mirror, she mentioned that it took her team about six years to raise awareness on the value of local coffee industry and quality. Along with Bill Luz, current Department Of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo, who was then Undersecretary for the Department Of Agriculture, and the coffee producers in the country, together, they did a month-long free coffee taste test for people to know of the high quality of our local coffee. Today, the market is very much receptive of local coffee varieties. This has led to a more sustainable and equitable practice in the Philippine coffee industry value chain.
Through the years, Chit has continued to advocate for sustainable trade and coffee production practices in the country.
As Chit got exposed to the complexities that micro and small producers faced in coffee production, it was clear to her that critical elements had to be in put in place like policies and incentives in order to promote sustainable value chain practices, in this case, for the coffee industry. This was not an easy task! As such, after stepping down as CEO of Figaro, Chit embraced social entrepreneurship as her vocation and advocacy.
“We were hit by the Taal eruption, then now Covid. Demand for coffee remains high but logistics might be difficult to go from province to the city. I was talking to a farmer from Kalinga and she is challenged with sending supplies to Manila due to the checkpoints and no bus trips. So we have to see how we will proceed with a regular logistic schedule. I have coffee coming from Bukidnon shipped out .”Chit Juan, on the logistical challenges faced by micro-enterprises and farmers during calamities
“On Barako, we have seedlings for would be farmers as we are encouraging its propagation in Cavite and Batangas. We also buy from farmers when they offer us even at a higher than usual price just to keep them in the farms and planting.”Chit Juan, on helping sustain local coffee varieties through fair trade
Today, Chit runs ECHO (cares for the Environment, helps the Community, promotes Health and works with Organizations) Store, adding in ECHOCafe, a dining concept, completing the cycle with ECHOmarkets and ECHOfarms. She set up this social enterprise about 11 years ago, expanding the same learnings from the coffee industry to other natural resources in our country like coconut, rice, essential oils and the like.
Bringing sustainable products to mainstream market presents its own challenges, which is an opportunity for the Department of Trade and Industry to help streamline processes. Chit stresses that today, more than ever, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) are getting the much needed support from government. But with Covid19 and other possible climate-related disruptions, MSMEs may need to adapt to digital shifts to be more sustainable.
“FDA registration takes forever. Expiry of products when natural and organic is faster. We may have to encourage more people to open community markets for fresh produce as us being done now.”Chit Juan, on the challenges organic products face given the shorter shelf-life of natural based products
As we soon come out from ECQ facing a “new normal,” Chit foresees that the social changes will bring about challenges on how MSMEs operate. The issue on financing may help bridge this gap until MSMEs are able to define and adapt to the parameters of the “new normal.”
“Financing must put a different pair of glasses on. We have met so many traditional bankers – it’s time for an innovation in investments to happen.“Chit Juan, on funding innovations for MSMEs to thrive above the challanges of the “new normal”
One of the most encouraging support for MSMEs nowadays is the greater awareness among consumers when it comes to the positive impact of sustainable products and services. Moreover, more customers are shifting their preference towards local, fresh and more sustainably sourced produce. This shift in customer preference will help in the establishment of a holistic ecosystem for fair trade and the advancement sustainable value chain practices.
“Listen to the consumer who suddenly is now hyperlocal, buys online and is thinking of freshness and most of all traceability.”Chit Juan, on the social, environmental and ethical economic awareness of today’s consumers
The key in making sustainable products made by MSMEs even more sustainable is finding a platform to scale it – making it more accessible to customers.
“Online is the best and more plausible way. I’m now talking to big sites to carry our products so we can extend our reach. I have given up on going back to malls. It might be a ‘yesterday’ now. “Chit Juan, on scaling sustainable products
The topic of pursuing sustainable value chains is material to attaining sustainable business practices. In many ways, we owe these advancements to sustainability champions like Chit Juan, who have carved out paths for us to take as we carry on working for a more sustainable ecosystem for MSMEs and move towards a “new normal” making it a “better normal.”
Photo Credits: Chit Juan | ECHOstore
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