DIGITAL FORUM ON PREVENTING COVID-19 IN THE WORKPLACE
June 18, 2020

RURAL PROSPERITY AND COOPERATIVES: AN INVALUABLE PARTNERSHIP

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We have all witnessed how urbanization has led to rapid economic growth in the cities, yet leaving many of the rural areas abandoned and impoverished. As the song goes “isn’t it ironic”, when in fact many of the economic opportunities lie within our rural areas, where there is much more open space, as well as room to grow a vast array of agricultural products that congested areas cannot.

Perhaps it was in this frame of mind that the government, alarmed by this economic imbalance promptly initiated the Balik-Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa program, or BP2.

For one, this will truly revitalize agriculture, within which environment agri coops and other cooperatives involved in the value chain can be further developed thru agro technology and the use of information technology- and where this will call for partnerships with the government.

Secondly, this will also spur ‘industrialization’ in provincial areas; under section 4 of EO 114, cooperatives can enhance their vital role in intervention among regional councils which will hone their capabilities for devising economic planning activities, i.e. what industries can be developed which can lead to employment (manufacturing, agriculture and services) while serving the needs of the regions/areas/communities they operate in.

Thirdly, let us also consider how BP2 will benefit returning OFWs, most especially if they reorganize themselves into cooperatives; this can also give them better opportunities for restarting their new lives and those of their families in anticipation of diminished employment overseas.

It is also in this light that the cooperative sector, spearheaded by the Philippine Cooperative Centre (PCC), in partnership with the Cooperatives Sectoral Council (CSC) of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) hosted, last July 20,2020 via Zoom.

VIRTUAL FORUM ON PROMOTING INDUSTRIALIZATION AND FULL EMPLOYMENT BASED ON SOUND AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AND AGRARIAN REFORM
Role of Cooperatives in the Program

Facilitated by PCC CEO Edwin Bustillos, the resource speakers included Mr. Gadwin Handumon, CEO of Paglaum Cooperative and Former Sectoral Representative of NAPC-CSC; PCC Chairperson Dr. Gary Leonardo; Loreto Ramiro of KABISIG Coop and PCC Vice Chairperson; Fr. Anton CT Pascual of Caritas Manila; 1CISP’s BGen.Teodoro Evangelista; Coop stalwart, Head of PCC Utilities Cluster, CEO of PHILFECO, Congressman Ponciano Payuyo; and Ms. Christie Rowena ‘Tetay’ Plantilla, CEO of Federation of Peoples’ Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC).

How BP2 contributes to poverty reduction by ensuring food security and agricultural productivity — and an honest-to-goodness value-chain system

In his presentation, Mr. Handumon stressed the opportunities/prospects on how the BP2 program will enhance agricultural productivity that will, in turn, lead to food security if anchored on the proper framework within the context of the poverty alleviation and social reform agenda of the basic sectors. He noted how NAPC, in partnership with its 14 Basic Sectoral Council members, considers BP2 as a key strategy in realizing NAPC’s Social Reform Agenda that embodies the need to focus intervention on reducing poverty via the basic needs of poor Filipinos : food and land reform, water, shelter, work, health, education, social protection, healthy environment, peace and participation; and for the progressive realization of the fundamental rights of the poor as identified in the Magna Charta of the Poor (R.A. 11291), right to adequate food, right to adequate housing, right to decent work, right to relevant and quality education, and right to the highest attainable standard of health.

Mr. Handumon also pointed out how BP2 must take into consideration the promotion of value-chain development that increases agricultural, as well as rural enterprise productivity and tourism and the use of science and technology to enhance innovation and creative capacity towards self-sustaining inclusive development, as a complementary strategy under the NAPC’s 3S (Sambayanihan Serbisyong Sambayanan) flagship program.

On how to increase farm incomes and improve the quality of life of farmers as a higher level of goals, Mr. Handumon suggested the need to: —take advantage of economies of scale in agricultural production; —promote value-chain development;; —enact the National Land Use Management Act; – –further peace-enabling agri-asset reform and protection of rights —promote food security, safety, and sovereignty in rural areas.

Likewise, in supporting and strengthening local agricultural industries and fast-track equitable distribution of resources, he noted the need for the following measures: supporting for Agri and fisheries infrastructure; financial support such as ACEF loans and agri-coop incentives; and LGU inventory of public assets and private agri-fisheries-forestry and local resources. As for promoting sustainable and equitable agricultural production, Mr, Handumon called for injecting innovative processes and technologies such as modern rice farming techniques, seed banking, and production,/ farm mechanization, urban and backyard food production, the need for resource-based ecologically sound agricultural development, and strict implementation of environment protection policies.

“Everything is interdependent with each other. Under BP2, coops and LGUs can complement each other, towards survival and recovery,” Mr. Handumon reasoned out. “Sound economic policies for the countryside also translate to effective social transformation and sustainable development.” In line with the Build, Build, Build program that spurs infrastructure development, he called for the movement to improve its ‘Data, Data, Data’ which is aimed at updating facts and statistics of all kinds of cooperatives, big or small operating throughout the country for more extensive information— particularly primary data that the individual entities can provide themselves.

“What is needed is a real, honest-togoodness value-chain that is replicable, scalable, sustainable and inclusive,” pointed out PCC’s Dr. Leonardo, adding the need to develop norms and standards; this is especially true from his observation of three dilemmas, one of which is excess inventory that becomes wasteful and costly, while on the other hand, not having enough inventory may result in losses and customer dissatisfaction. There is the usual case of ordering too many which translates into spending more to keep excess inventory—and ordering late which results in dissatisfied customers and lost sales. He also cited the reality that ‘if one thinks sales forecasting is hard, running a business without sales forecasting could be harder.’

He further emphasized that as the name suggests, value chain does not only involve the flow of products, but also the flow of services, finances and information; and as it further suggests, this endeavor seeks to add value to the different activities that make up the chain as well as injects values into the system such as self-help and mutual help.

He then went on to emphasize the need to institutionalize this endeavor; with its operative words: being research – practice – sustain. “There are three stages that an effort to institutionalize typically goes through”, Dr. Leonardo pointed out. “First is to Pilot; then laying the foundation for scaling up, and finally going large-scale or full-scale.” A hypothetical example that he cited is the OTOP (OneTown-One-Product) program; to wit: we could pilot in one of the OTOPs in one region; scale it up to the other OTOPs in the region; and finally go full-scale in the other participating OTOPs nationwide.

He particularly called for the need for us to go back to the basics of managing inventories, even in the case of the farmers, by applying the basic formula for determining when a particular distribution point would need to re-order stocks and how much to re-order. Ideally, the resulting quantities for each product can be viewed system-wide (e.g. supplier-consolidator-retailer) so that each one will be guided on how the stocks move and prepare accordingly as regards making the necessary adjustments in their respective parts within the chain.

“Let us also consider a recommendation from NAPC where funding for BP2 can be attained by building partnerships with the private sector. For the coop sector, one possible vehicle is via a One Coop Financial System that covers One Coop Bank/ One Coop Insurance, One Asset Management/Mutual Funds, Unified and Integrated Coops and Federations under a digitized Ecosystem,” he furthered.

Improving the traditional into high tech, eating fruits and vegetables for wellness

“Let farmers plant products that they can earn from and not plant what they cannot earn from.”

This was a very sound logic provided by Mr. Ramiro where he noted those crops and their by-products that are very much in demand, especially in urban areas that provide the bulk of the market. Just as he notes the growth potential of farming communities, there is also a need to upgrade their skills, know-how as well as mindsets.

“Let us improve the traditional for them to go high-tech as not all farmers are agriculturists,” he admitted. “In addition to injecting more technological know-how, let us also adopt new strategies for the market.

” Mr. Ramiro cited the need for greater R&D that can promote the versatility of one crop. He cited the case of bananas, where they can be turned into banana chips. And who knows, other banana offshoots can be banana flavorings or perhaps clothing fashioned out of the banana fiber. Whatever way, he added farmers that producers of banana crops can be stakeholders in such undertakings.

“The coop sector has a vital role in BP2, as it is part of the agricultural cluster,” enthused Fr. Anton.

Why the need to work together? Fr. Anton noted this as a pressing need towards attaining food security which, in turn, will address rural poverty that can uplift the well-being of farmers who, in his observation, still wallow in poverty.

“Then there is environmental advocacy; the more we eat vegetable and fruits, in addition to helping our farmers who grow these crops via holistic methods, the more we help promote physical wellness as vegetables and fruits are very healthy,” he stressed in a very upbeat way.

Fr, Anton suggested that PCC takes the lead and also expressed that in order for this program to really work out for the benefit of the cooperative sector, the following must be undertaken:

1. With the help of CDA, he cited the need for a more improved solid database, to make an updated inventory of all agri-coops (primaries and secondaries);

2. Evaluate the downside and the good side and successes of agri-business and recommend measures on the gaps identified;

3. Gather the champions in the cooperative sector to lead the agricultural sector;

4. Organize a strategic planning workshop 2020-2025. The NAPC agriculture value chain framework can be a good roadmap; and

5. Establish and enhance networking especially with National Government Agencies such as the Departments of Agriculture (DA), Agrarian Reform (DAR), Science and Technology (DOST), and LGUs. since they have funds and technology.

For Brigadier General Ted Evangelista, he stressed the importance 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 BP2 program due to their engagement levels and proximity at grassroots levels. Yet he cited 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.

“We have too many laws, the problem is how to implement these laws,” he noted. Yet he made recommendations that go beyond such doubts to ensure the so-called longevity of cooperatives. These 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 BP2 programs—including primary coops to invest in smaller coops through direct investments

• an enabling law to be passed to advance the BP2 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,” he summed up confidently.

No food, no security—and setting that gold standard

“If there is no food, there is no security,” pointed out Cong. 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.”

Cong. Payuyo emphasized the link 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, as well as in distribution. On the distribution aspect, he noted 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 the least was FPSDC, which is regarded as a Philippine cooperative success story—one that has set the gold standard in sustainable coop development by providing support and success in putting to fruition ethical valuebased, 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, which come branded as F&C (Farms and Cottages) stemming from intensive R&D 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 sourc

e the raw materials that are ecofriendly to the stringent quality processes we involve to ensure the consumers are getting a top-notch holistic product” pointed out Ms. Plantilla.

She also noted the growing need for more branded organic products such as F&C’s branded Muscovado sugar which has benefitted sugar farmers in Negros, as well as novel treats such as guava jellies and even black garlic from Ilocos that can even be a delight for cooking aficionados. In terms of exports, Ms. Plantilla added how FPSDC 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 coop marts like SIDC and VICTO. Plus, we are looking forward to the next generation of cooperators through our program Y-lead, which is a youth council that hones presentday youth to become Y-leaders,” confidently suggested Ms. Plantilla. She also added that in other parts of the value chain, there is a need to enhance the payment option that will be handled by cooperatives rather than corporations. Moreover, Cooperatives must eventually secure a market place for cooperative products.

(photo taken during the open forum)

Alex Raquepo contributed to the discussion that In agriculture, inputs and marketing are not the only problems. Soil fertility, illegal conversion of farmlands, our farmers getting old (the young generation doesn’t want to go to farming), insurgency, farm to market roads, and transport, among many others. The cooperative sector needs to address these together with DA and our national government.

Also imparting his insights was Cong. Criz Paez who stressed that the agricoops sector is very weak– with agricoops 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, he suggested a more ‘critical thinking and also strategic planning’ which would take into account the need for giant savings/credit coops of this country to invest in the so-called agroindustrialization to ensure greater food security. Cong. Paez also noted the need to correct the imbalance of utilities distribution where presently, the country’s power utilities are among the most expensive in the world. This presents a hindrance to boost the competitiveness of local farmers. He cited how the Philippines can learn from the successful model of Vietnam; in that ASEAN country, before a farm is developed for production, the government provides electricity, connections and irrigation canals before other requirements should be put in place.

Indeed, the different coop presenters have their different insights on how the movement can contribute to the value-chain vis-a-vis the B2B program. True, there may be obstacles that could serve as a big hindrance. But rather than see these as hindrances, let us see these as opportunities that can make all of us in the movement rise, strategize, implement—then move up to know that we have succeeded graciously and courageously in bringing back the much-needed prosperity to our rural areas.

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.”

Plus, let us also never forget, it is also in these trying times where we, as cooperators all develop and hone our strengths to work together and overcome our weaknesses.

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