Rural prosperity and cooperatives: An invaluable partnership

Rural prosperity and cooperatives: An invaluable partnership

By Noel Dolor

[ Third or last of series ]

IN A presentation, Brigadier General Ted Evangelista could not stress any more the important function of cooperatives as one of the best conduits to provide credit lines and investments for individuals, their businesses and the development of communities under the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program (established by Executive Order No. 114), a.k.a. BP2 due to their engagement levels and proximity at grassroots levels. Yet he cites the need to go beyond bureaucratic processes and survival that transcend administrations—especially with regard to the challenge on how to attain the much-needed funding.

In times of crisis, people reach for meaning. Meaning is strength. Our survival may depend on our seeking and finding it. — Dawna Markova

“We have too many laws, the problem is how to implement these laws,” he noted. He made recommendations that go beyond such doubts to ensure the so-called longevity of cooperatives, which include:

• government regulators such as the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) could make policy recommendations and lobby in behalf of the movement to secure government grants, subsidies and/or extended credit lines from government banks

• an enabling legal framework that will allow coop funds (e.g. statutory funds) to support Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program—including primary cooperatives to invest in smaller coops through direct investments

• an enabling law to be passed to advance the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program, with the intent to make this national development program feasible, not only short-term, but long-term.

“Despite our shortcomings, cooperatives are on the right track to be of invaluable support in sustainable development projects,” Evangelista sums up confidently.

No food, no security—and setting that gold standard

“If there is no food, there is no security,” points out former APEC (Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives) party list Representative Ponciano Payuyo. “Let us consider the link of utilities such as water, which is a must for rural electrification, plus electricity to aid the productivity of farmers and fishermen.”

Payuyo highlights the import of the linkages of utilities in the value-chain process, which is part of the impact needed to make basics, such as farming and fishing processes, function efficiently. On the distribution aspect, he articulates opportunities for the coops to establish a mechanism to have rolling stores for farmers, and for electric and transport coops, more eco-friendly means of transport such as e-jeepneys.

Last, but not least, is the Federation of Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative FPSDC, which is regarded as a Philippine cooperative success story—one that has set the gold standard in sustainable cooperative development by providing support and success in putting to fruition ethical value-based, innovative, and holistic products and services beneath its well-produced goods that come attractively packaged and available at renowned mainstream retail and grocery outlets. FPSDC products come branded as F&C (Farms and Cottages) stemming from intensive research and development processes.

“What we at FPSDC emphasize are the four P’s, People, Planet, Prosperity, and Peace. This is also a process that is in tandem with our credo ‘From Farm To Fork,’ which is a complete program enhancing the value-chain that utilizes holistic methods, from the way we source the raw materials that are eco-friendly to the stringent quality processes we involve to ensure that consumers are getting top-notch holistic product” says its presenter Ms. Plantilla.

Plantilla makes clear that the growing need for more branded organic products, such as F&C’s branded Muscovado sugar, has benefited sugar farmers in Negros, including other novel treats, such as, guava jellies and even black garlic from Ilocos that delights cooking aficionados. In terms of exports, the 154-member strong federation of cooperatives and civil society organizations has been in close coordination with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

“Cooperatives can also venture into the logistics business in order to complete the value-chain; these have borne fruit via cooperative marts like Sorosoro Ibaba Development Cooperative (SIDC) and VICTO National Cooperative Federation and Development Center (VICTO). We are also looking forward to the next generation of cooperators through our program Y-lead, a youth council that hones present-day youth to become Y-leaders,” Plantilla says. She adds that in other parts of the value chain there is a great need to enhance payment options handled by cooperatives rather than corporations, for eventually, cooperatives will secure a market place for cooperative products.

Alex Raquepo, meanwhile, shares that agricultural inputs and marketing are not the only issues they deal with. He says that equally important is to address soil fertility, the illegal conversion of farmlands as farmers are getting old and the young generation doesn’t want to get into farming; insurgency in remote areas, the lack or poor state of farm-to-market roads, and transport facilities are still among the many challenges agri-based cooperatives face.

“The cooperative sector, together with the DA and our national government needs to focus on these concerns, too” Raquepo says.

Former COOP-NATCCO party list Representative Cresente Paez says, “the agri-cooperatives sector is very weak—the cooperatives are themselves fragmented, dispersed and lacking the financial muscle to engage competitively in the value chain segment that promises great impact in rural employment.” To correct this deficiency, Paez suggests a more critical thinking and strategic planning that would take into account the need for the giant savings or credit cooperatives to invest in agri-industrialization to ensure greater food security.

Paez further underscores “the need to correct the imbalance of utilities distribution where presently the country’s power utilities are among the most expensive in the world and this presents a hindrance to boost the competitiveness of local farmers.” He cites how the Philippines can learn from the successful model of Vietnam where the government provides electricity, connections and irrigation canals before other requirements should be put in place, before a farm is even developed for production, .

The different presenters have their varied insights on how the cooperative movement can contribute to the value-chain vis-a-vis the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program. There may be obstacles, true, and everyone is aware of that but these are opportunities that can make all of us in the cooperative movement rise up, create value and strategies to come up with positive outcomes, collaborate and implement—then move up to know that we have succeeded graciously and courageously in bringing back the much-needed prosperity to our rural areas. Let us never forget that it is in these trying times where we, as cooperators develop and hone our strengths to work together to overcome our weaknesses.

Allow us to draw inspiration from this quote by author, psychologist and motivational speaker Dawna Markova: “In times of crisis, people reach for meaning. Meaning is strength. Our survival may depend on our seeking and finding it.” (IA/DS)

Featured photo: Farmer in the field. Photo by by Dodo Phanthamaly from Pexels.

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