Philippines: Datu Mara Buan, tribal chief and coffee grower

Datu Mara Buan, tribal chief and coffee grower in the Philippines

Through environmentally friendly coffee cultivation, 93-year-old tribal chief Datu Mara Buan brought undreamed of prosperity to his village in the Philippines, while securing protection for a threatened animal species at the same time. The palm civet, a creeping cat species, eats coffee cherries and produces one of the most expensive coffees in the world – a gourmet delight. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ gave practical assistance to 190 coffee farmers.

They call you 'Datu'. What does that mean?

As chief of the B’laan tribe I am responsible for the people in my village. Members of our tribe come to me for advice. What I want most is to preserve our traditions and at the same time to see that we, too, can benefit from the positive developments of the urban world.

What changes did the introduction of 'civet coffee' bring to your village?

In the past, we raised poultry and vegetables, but this didn't earn us enough money to send our children to school. I never went to school, myself. Since we started planting coffee, though, and gathering and selling the expensive beans the wild civets leave behind, things are looking up. Our village has its own school now. Some of our young people even go to university! We can afford motorbikes and cell phones, and these have made us a lot more mobile. And our houses are more solidly built.

Do you manage to live in harmony with nature despite the coffee growing?

Perhaps even more than before. We used to trap the civet 'cats' for their meat. But now we protect them and their habitat and plant banana trees so they have something to eat when the coffee-growing season is past. If we look after nature, she will look after us.

What keeps you young?

I have the privilege of drinking a cup of civet coffee every day. It gives me strength. This is probably why I'm still in such good shape at my advanced age. Besides, I still work my coffee farm myself, and that keeps me fit.

When you look back on your life, what do you see?

Many of my dreams have come true because of the coffee. I want to plant more coffee trees and see that my village continues to progress. With God's help, I will prepare my people for the future. I would like to see my family carry on what I started.


        
    
The B’laan tribe, headed by Datu Mara Buan, lives in a remote area at the foot of Mount Matutum, an active volcano on the Philippine island of Mindanao.
The B’laan tribe, headed by Datu Mara Buan, lives in a remote area at the foot of Mount Matutum, an active volcano on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

        
    
The civet cat lives there, too. It lives off the berries of the coffee plant, though it digests only the fruity part of each berry, not the bean. Photo: Fred Fredeluces
The civet cat lives there, too. It lives off the berries of the coffee plant, though it digests only the fruity part of each berry, not the bean. Photo: Fred Fredeluces

        
    
The excreted coffee beans have already undergone fermentation. The villagers gather the excrement with the beans, then wash the beans and roast them.
The excreted coffee beans have already undergone fermentation. The villagers gather the excrement with the beans, then wash the beans and roast them.

        
    
This 'civet coffee' is notable for its especially rich and agreeable aroma. It has no bitter or sour taste. As a true delicacy, it is in demand throughout the world.
This 'civet coffee' is notable for its especially rich and agreeable aroma. It has no bitter or sour taste. As a true delicacy, it is in demand throughout the world.

        
    
Datu Mara Buan, a coffee farmer himself, enjoys a cup of this luxurious brew every day. He adopted the cause of securing protection for the civet cats.
Datu Mara Buan, a coffee farmer himself, enjoys a cup of this luxurious brew every day. He adopted the cause of securing protection for the civet cats.

        
    
Before the villagers turned to the lucrative business of coffee growing, they lived by growing vegetables. In 1984 they began to plant and harvest coffee.
Before the villagers turned to the lucrative business of coffee growing, they lived by growing vegetables. In 1984 they began to plant and harvest coffee.

        
    
The village chief is an authority figure among the B’laan people. He first convinced himself of the advantages of coffee production, then he convinced his village.
The village chief is an authority figure among the B’laan people. He first convinced himself of the advantages of coffee production, then he convinced his village.

        
    
GIZ contributed a depulping machine in support of the B'laans' efforts and offered the local farmers further training in coffee production. Photos: Lee Santiago, Tristan Limbo
GIZ contributed a depulping machine in support of the B'laans' efforts and offered the local farmers further training in coffee production. Photos: Lee Santiago, Tristan Limbo

        
    
The coffee is a blessing to Datu Mara Buan. Better incomes mean that the village can afford not only motorbikes but also a school of their own for their children.
The coffee is a blessing to Datu Mara Buan. Better incomes mean that the village can afford not only motorbikes but also a school of their own for their children.

        
    
Datu Mara Buan wants future generations in his village to have better lives. He hopes that they will maintain their traditions while enjoying the benefits of modern life, too.
Datu Mara Buan wants future generations in his village to have better lives. He hopes that they will maintain their traditions while enjoying the benefits of modern life, too.