Co-ops spread dividends from PH economic growth
Amid the toxic air generated by today’s Filipino-style politics, one can find good news that validates the cliché “hope springs eternal.”
The Department of Agrarian Reform has a program called Arccess (Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Services). Through this program, it provides professional services to enhance its commitment to and reinforce the capability of beneficiary-organizations for sustainable business activities, taking off from the land that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program had distributed, and from farm mechanization initiatives in place.
As a member of a project team working with the DAR in providing a market-oriented business development service to seven cooperatives in Nueva Ecija, I have witnessed the farmers’ openness, readiness and hope to move their respective organizations up to the next level so they can serve their members better. Some 900 members comprise these seven cooperatives responsible for tilling roughly 1,200 hectares of rice land. My experience with them was a real eye-opener: Farmers’ cooperatives have great potential to spread dividends from the country’s accelerating economic growth.
One such co-op is the Casa Real Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Barangay San Isidro in Laur—a small enterprise of 101 members tilling rice lands of 189 hectares. Its total assets hover at the P1-million level.
The board chair is a second-generation Igorot born in the mid-1960s of parents who had migrated from the north. The sense of community in the place is very strong. In what was supposed to be simply the first encounter of the project team with the co-op officers for a briefing on the business consultancy service, more than 30 (or over 30 percent of the members) attended. One board member who was unable to come had his wife attend in his stead. The demonstrated commitment and dedication were overwhelming. The communal foundation of the relationship among the members was a phenomenon to behold.
The environment may be rural and the dwelling structures bare and light, but it is quickly made clear to a third-party observer that the community does not feel “poor.” No doubt, there are basic needs like education, housing and healthcare that must be filled. Yet there is wealth, too, in the community that transcends these needs. Further probing revealed that a significant number of hectares are planted to sweet potato and legumes, as well as some mango trees. The virtue of hard work is evidently acknowledged. The sense of solidarity is highly visible.
The challenge to make the cooperative open more opportunities for the enrichment of the community can be a balancing act: Care must be taken to ensure that commercialism will not erode the cultural frame that establishes the communal structure. The cooperative must enhance, not overhaul, the structure, and build over, not replace, the foundation. The need for preservation in the pursuit of development will be this cooperative’s underlying hurdle as it expands and diversifies its business for the benefit of its members.
In Batangas, in the small municipality of Taysan in Barangay Dagatan, the Buklod-Unlad Multi-Purpose Cooperative has evolved from a struggling credit-lending operation during its first 12 years to a progressive co-op that is now serving and providing benefits to some 2,000 members. The turning point was a decision in 2006 to get into the hog production supply chain with a 40-sow pig farm, after trying pig growing in 2003.
Buklod-Unlad was organized in June 1991 by 44 cooperators with P37,500 in seed capital. It was registered with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) in 1997. The co-op now owns and operates a feed mill and has expanded into meat processing with its own brand, “Cerdo Real.” It now has total assets of almost P150 million.
In a recent agribusiness forum held at the Eastern Visayas State University in Tacloban, Leyte, I met representatives of the Acdi Multi-Purpose Cooperative. It was established in 1981 by, not farmers, but 26 young pilots in Lipa City, Batangas as a savings and credit co-op with a seed capital of P200,000. It now has more than P10 billion in total assets and membership of over 80,000, operating through seven areas with 24 branches, 33 extension offices and 20 mobile operations nationwide. It has diversified business interests: savings and lending, property management, agribusiness, aviation services, consumer services.
Acdi has members in Leyte and Samar who were affected by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) It can contribute to the region’s recovery effort for its members and their neighbors likewise devastated by that big disaster. It has resources that can be mobilized and, more importantly, it has the will to make a difference.
There are more than 23,000 CDA-registered cooperatives all over the country. And there are many more success stories that can be told. Their stories, however, have been highlighted less than those of failed co-ops. Public appreciation of achievements by cooperatives can serve as impetus for the further expansion of this business infrastructure.
The buzz phrase “social enterprise” can begin changing mind-sets that will further launch cooperatives toward their mission to serve more than 12 million members all over the country. The lure of the corporate world for young professionals must now begin to give way to opening up the road to the cooperative world. The youth of today must rediscover the value of agriculture in our economy. This can be done with efficacy through cooperatives.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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