Co Chocolat on Page 5 Gulf Today
Values inherent in sustainability ethos protect peasants’ interest
Not trampling on anyone is sustainability to the core.
Luchie Suguitan quipped: ‘Sustainability is values in action.’ DUBAI: Not trampling on anyone is sustainability to the core.
Luchie Suguitan quipped: “Sustainability is values in action.” “It is not only the responsibility of the government. As President (John F.) Kennedy stated, ‘ask what you can do for your country,’” interjected Iman Suguitan.
In the UAE since 2004, two weeks after their caterer-mother personally checked on Dubai and found it immensely livable where “nice people” reside, a bit of Iman’s and Luchie’s thoughts on the latest trending word – sustainability – surfaced a few days ago.
Their entrepreneurial endeavor, an excellent illustration of what sustainability is, brought about by the family’s concern over the debilitating health of their mom whom they saw suffer from – since the late 1990s – the consequences of cardiovascular disease and its partner diabetes – even dementia, as according to Iman, studies have revealed that the high concentration of sugar and its thickening of the blood, impacts the brain, is worth-sharing.
“We are not rich. That is why we are (overseas Filipino workers),” said Iman, the “Ate” (big sister), a University of the Philippines (Manila) Bachelor of Science (BS) in Physical Therapy degree holder who, together with Luchie, a BS Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate from St. Paul University Manila, wanted some greener pastures.
Dubai was where Iman, as the founder/managing director set up in 2009, what would become the award-winning Ahsant Premium Hotel Supplies. Luchie became the Fund Administration manager of the investments arm of the Delta Partners Group, an advisory and investment firm. Doing well in their respective careers, their mother’s health had become worrisome. Something had to be done by the family who finds chocolates irresistible. They were also noticing then that dark chocolates which must be bitter or even terribly bitter had become darker and yet at the same time sweet “which means something was wrong.”
How about a “healthy and delicious chocolate shop,” considering that for years, worldwide brouhaha over sugars and sweets, diabetes and its co-morbidities had also been astronomically spiking.
So went the sisters to Davao City in 2016 as part of their annual holiday and where they already had enrolled for the Cacao Production Class under the Department of Agriculture (DA) regional office.
Continued Iman: “We wanted to have a clear understanding (of what had seriously affected our family). We found out that the main ingredient in chocolate is cacao. It is not sugar. It is not milk. The Philippines popped up several times in our searches. In 2016, Davao was already advancing in the fine flavour of chocolate.”
Their dream of setting up their own “healthy and delicious chocolate shop” in Dubai however pivoted to a complete 360-degree when, among their classmates who were owners of cacao farmlands in Agusan del Sur, was a college graduate, member of one of the over 10 indigenous tribes of Mindanao, employed at a non-government organisation.
This classmate who, among his duties, was to visit the dwellers in the remotest of the hinterlands, had only one thing in mind: to make the household monthly income of the people he visits to Php1,500 (Dhs100).
Constant communication among the classmates, the collaboration with the DA Regional Office through which the Suguitans experienced the dedication of their country’s public servants, happened next. Luchie and Iman immersed their lives for months at the mountainous farmlands to become erudite of the cacao and the industry. Luchie became the chocolatier. She studied in her free time in the premiere chocolate making professional schools in Canada, USA and France. She enrolled at the Cacao Doctor’s Training Programme of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao Inc.
The OFW Para sa Magsasaka (OFWs for the Farmers) social enterprise was consequently registered with the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission. Current member-partners are at 50 from the Philippines, UAE, Singapore and USA. Its original beneficiaries of 400 farmers from Agusan del Sur have recently been extended to farmers in South Cotabato, another Mindanao province.
“Chocolates do not come from nothing. They come from farmers. We need to value our farmers. We need to ensure that our business is sustainable for themselves as well not just for us businessmen. If we do not value our farmers, our cacao farmers, where would we source cacao which is actually a super food, unprocessed,” said Iman.
Iman and Luchie are also at the helm of the Co-Chocolat at the Candylicious in Dubai Mall. With perennial client Fahad bin Jumaa, a health buff from Saudi Arabia, as their investor, they recently inaugurated their stand-alone chocolate shop-cum-chocolate factory in Warsan, Dubai.
On page 5 of the 02 March 2023 Gulf Today.