It all began when Larissa’s father Jojo visited T'Boli, a small town located in the province of South Cotabato in the Philippines for a hiking trip. While trekking though the highlands, he noticed an abundance of wild arabica coffee. Arabica is a highly sought-after bean, popular for its premium quality. Jojo asked the locals what they did with the crop and was shocked to find that they didn’t harvest it, not only because it was difficult, but because they didn’t understand its value.
Back home, he relayed to Larissa what he discovered – leaving them feeling puzzled as they saw great potential for the farmers there. Upon visiting T’Boli, Larissa felt compelled to help the community utilize and unlock the potential of this valuable resource. This adventure cemented Larissa’s resolve to do her part to help develop the agriculture industry in the Philippines, starting with the farmers and their families in this remote municipality
Equipping herself with agricultural knowledge
In 2017, Larissa and her father founded The Dream Coffee: the name reflects the history of the T’Boli tribe, whose traditional textile skills made them renowned as ‘dream weavers’. The Dream Coffee launched with a group of 75 partner farmers and their families, growing their single-estate, single origin arabica coffee famous for its flavor profile of chocolate and caramel.
In the early stages of establishing the company, Larissa and Jojo prioritized education and training, teaching the farmers best practice in production and post-production processes. Once the foundation had been established, Larissa and her father began marketing the coffee brand.
Two years after the launch, Larissa enrolled herself in an agribusiness masterclass to expand her knowledge about value chains, climate change and inclusivity, which helped broaden her perspective. “I felt this was necessary to provide me with the knowledge to continue supporting the agriculture sector,” she explains. While it was a stark difference to her earlier training in journalism, Larissa was now undeniably a woman in agrictulture.
A crash course in building a business
Larissa found running the business extremely demanding. Developing new systems and structures from scratch and immersing herself in the farming communities posed many hurdles. When it came to working with the farmers in remote T’boli, opening up their minds to new and improved farming practices and methods was sometimes difficult; she discovered that cultural disconnects also acted as barriers between her and the farmers. However, Larissa understood the challenge from the farmers perspective, too – everything she was exposing them to was new and, often, very different to their old and traditional farming practices. But with a patient and understanding stance, she has been able to bring new possibilities to life.
“As an entrepreneur, there are moments where I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, or where my efforts are going, but I always go back to the farmers and the community,” Larissa shares. Thinking about all the hard work they go through motivates her to continue and stand firmly rooted in her purpose behind the company which, apart from generating great coffee, is to improve the livelihoods of the farmers and their families. She adds that even as the company grows, she wants to maintain the culture and value of putting the interests of the farmers first and would never want to put them in a position where they would be overlooked.
“For me it was my own way of contributing to agriculture as a whole in the country. I am a believer that at its core, the Philippines is an agricultural country, and there are so many ways to be innovative about that,” adds Larissa. “If it's not going to be us individuals playing our part then who else will it be?”
Using storytelling skills to build a brand
Looking back, despite the risk and complete career pivot, it has been a rewarding past four years for Larissa. Though it was not her original plan, she believes that her background in journalism has helped her relay the stories of the farmers that she works with and establish a strong brand identity. She values innovation and creativity in the agriculture and sustainability world, and believes that the new generation is paving the way for meaningful solutions in agriculture. She is committed to continuing self-improvement, and is currently in the process of attaining a coffee grading license to aid in the growth of her business.
In March 2021, The Dream Coffee proudly launched a special release of arabica beans that had been grown and harvested exclusively by their female partner farmers, whose ages ranged from 37 to 71. “This special release reinforces that age and gender provide no limits when it comes to taking part in the coffee value chain,” says Larissa.
A message to other women in agriculture
Larissa has another message to share:
“It is important to recognize that we as women play such an important role in the field. Women should help women to take up greater spaces in agriculture. But it is important for us to evaluate their strengths and place them in the value chain accordingly for them to truly thrive as opposed to just placing them in for the sake of having women representation.”