Putting money where the conscience is
DAVAO CITY, Philippines—The sales pitch of the Don Bosco Foundation for Sustainable Development Inc. (DBFSDI), or simply Don Bosco, doesn’t hide anything.
No sugar-coated promises. No false advertisements. The people behind it stress they’re not just about to create false needs for the demanding but willing consumers.
Even their slogan is void of pretensions: “Your option for healthy living and source of bio-dynamically produced food replete with life forces.”
When the Bios Dynamis Health Food Center was established in Davao City last year, the first ever organic food center in the city, people from Don Bosco were not thinking of making a huge profit.
For them, the daring decision to put up the center was their way of putting money where the conscience is. And by that, they mean helping farming communities and doing business while taking good care of the health of the consumers and keeping a healthy environment.
When they decided to put up a store in the city selling 100 percent chemical-free food products, Don Bosco was not worried about the presence of other established businesses in Davao.
Maria Helena “Betsy” Ruizo-Gamela, executive director of Don Bosco, said they knew they were opening the growing organic food niche wider.
It’s not an easy thing to do considering that organic food offers a far different world compared to the more popular chemical-dependent agriculture which naturally produces chemical-laced food products.
Don Bosco first set up a store in Kidapawan City, with products mostly supplied by farmers practicing biodynamics. Gamela said they decided to open a new chain in Davao because of the growing demand.
“We don’t compete. We are here to offer products for those who want to choose healthy living as an option. You know, as they say, the engine of organic production will be fueled by the demand of the niche market. And for now there is actually a growing demand for market expansion,” Gamela said.
Inside the store, located near a shopping mall, are processed and raw food products grown through biodynamics, an agricultural approach which uses the forces of nature.
Products for sale include polished and unpolished brown, red and white rice, fresh and flavored milk and milk bars, yoghurt, mangosteen capsules and tea, tea granules, avocado tea granules, turmeric tea, sambong tea, wild honey, vinegar, herbs, and anthroposophic preparations (for cough, fever, diarrhea, and other minor diseases).
Also sold are fresh fruits and vegetables and poultry products (native chicken meat and eggs, duck eggs), goat meat, danggit, and tuna products. Handmade soaps—of milk, horsetail, and milk-honey variants—are also available at the center.
Gamela said their goods are cheaper compared to those sold in malls and supermarkets, which partly explains the growing demand.
Even tricycle drivers and fish vendors can afford the products sold at the center, disproving the notion that only rich people can buy organic food.
“It’s not true that only the rich can afford to buy these products. If you compare the prices of our products to the same products found in the malls and supermarkets here, you will see the difference,” Gamela said.
Polished organic rice sold in a mall here costs P35 a kilo while the polished organic rice sold in the Bios Dynamis Center is only P29 per kilo. The difference is also evident in other products.
Don Bosco intends to build chains in the cities of General Santos, Koronadal and Cebu. These chains, Gamela said, can help the farmers and protect the consumers from the added burden of employing middlemen.
The centers in Kidapawan and Davao are being managed by the Biodynamics Multipurpose Cooperative, composed of practicing farmers and advocates of biodynamics and organic agriculture.
They spent about P300,000 to establish the chain which was also supported by Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF). The cooperative’s more than 3,000 farmers supply the products sold in the center.
Other nongovernment organizations and people’s organizations, which are producing organic products, can also display their own products in the center.
She said the center is the manifestation of their advocacy and practice of their vocation and social responsibility.
“We are looking at what we are doing in two ways—livelihood and Livelihood. We are not only giving farmers the economic opportunity but also giving the consumers the option to be healthy and have a good life. So it is livelihood and being alive,” Gamela said.
“It’s putting your money where your conscience is. This is to show that you can actually do business without destroying the environment or harming the health of the people. While doing business, you should not poison people. You have to take care of the people by also taking good care of the environment,” Gamela added.
In advocacy, she said, it is important to show the proof that what is being advocated works. She said they are advocating for a safe and sustainable agriculture and the truth is that sustainable agriculture relies on the market.
“The consciousness of the people in Mindanao is gearing towards good health and environmental protection and preservation. The niche is developing and we have to show that it is actually working because the truth is it is actually working,” she said.
“The bottomline is that what we are doing is so technical yet spiritual. At the end of the day, we will be asked, what did we do on this earth and we will be accountable for whatever we have done here. And farming is keeping a relationship with the creator. There is a very deep wisdom in farming that everyone must understand,” she added.
Since 1994, Don Bosco has been promoting sustainable agriculture in Mindanao by facilitating a paradigm shift for farmers—from practicing reductionist conventional agriculture to holistic, socially and environmentally responsible agriculture.
Gamela said they wanted to empower farming communities and help them become responsible in taking care of the life support systems of the earth.
They choose farming communities as the “locus of action, agriculture being a major contributor to the planet’s degradation and agriculture deeply touching and affecting the widest spheres of human life,” she said.