MANILA — On its fourth year of providing business advice, training and learning exchange services to its client cooperatives, Agriterra Philippines organised the virtual Client Summit 2020 last December to look back at the implementation of the ‘Farmer Common Sense in Business Programme’ and to chart its path for future engagement. The programme was implemented from 2016 – 2020 as Agriterra’s strategy to strengthen cooperative entrepreneurship, professionalisation, and advocacy.
Cooperatives as gateway to development
In his welcome remarks at the Client Summit 2020, Agriterra manager agri-advice Cees van Rij looked back at 2020 as an extraordinary year when the world was confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He emphasised the need to develop short, medium, and long-term solutions to the serious health, economic, and climate crises being experienced on a global scale.
“From the perspective of Agriterra, we see every day that cooperatives are part of that solution. The cooperatives can play an important role in serving as interface between individual farmers and the market, the farmers and service suppliers, the market and research institutions, and finally between the market and the government. This is why it is part of Agriterra’s ambition to professionalise cooperatives and assist them in improving their business and modernising their structures. This goal goes hand-in-hand with the main challenges ahead of us in the coming years and decades,” he said.
Cees van Rij added that in the Philippines there is a need more than ever for strong, professionally managed and farmer-steered cooperatives that will enable farmers to increase their yields, improve output quality, and find better markets. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for agricultural cooperatives to step up and organise themselves as a sector in order to contribute to rural development and food security in the country.
Farmer Common Sense in Business: Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals by Agri-Based Cooperatives
As of December 2020, Agriterra has provided advisory services to seven client cooperatives in several regions across the Philippines.
Some of the clients’ representatives shared how their respective organisations were able to develop their Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG)* through Agriterra’s Farmer Common Sense in Business programme, and how despite the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have stayed resilient in working towards these goals in 2020.
The goal of Sorosoro Ibaba Development Cooperative (SIDC) was to increase its Reach, Revenue and Return. Located in Batangas City, SIDC’s operations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and other calamities including the Taal Volcano eruption and the outbreak of the African Swine Fever (AFS) in early 2020. Despite this, SIDC was able to continue its operations throughout the year maintaining its feed mill, consumer retail and savings and credit businesses. The cooperative also found a new opportunity in providing home delivery groceries to clients during the lockdown. SIDC acknowledged Agriterra’s contributions to these successful efforts in the form of advisory services, training on governance, internal capitalisation and clustering, as well as technical assistance in the conduct of research for the expansion of its feed mill business in Palawan and Panay islands. By end of 2020, SIDC’s membership increased from 38,264 in 2019 to 44,774. Its savings and time deposits also increased by 26% from Php1.098 to Php1.386 billion.
Agriterra Philippines also assisted Fatima Multi-Purpose Cooperative (FMPC) which is based in Leyte province and is the top San Miguel Foods, Inc. (SMFI) cassava granules assembler in the region. With support from Agriterra, FMPC implemented the clustering and mapping approach for its cassava production areas resulting to partnerships with 11 farmer associations in Southern Leyte, Northern Samar, and Dinagat province in Mindanao. This led to an increase in the cooperative’s volume of transaction for cassava produce from 700 to 1,200 metric tons between 2019 to 2020, and its planted area from 150 to 400 hectares.
The Federation of People’s Sustainable Development Cooperative (FPSDC) announced that their organisation was included in the Export Marketing Bureau of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) wherein they were able to conduct business-to-business (B2B) and coop-to-coop (C2C) discussions with export partners. This milestone brings FPSDC one step closer towards their goal to become the leading distributor and marketing arm of cooperative products in the Philippines and the global market.
Meanwhile, the Labo Progressive Multipurpose Cooperative (LPMPC) acknowledged how the business advisory services of Agriterra helped them in business and market development for their agribusiness project, ‘Queench Pineapple Juice’. They expressed their intent to continue collaborating with Agriterra Philippines as they work towards their goal of making Queench the leading pineapple juice brand in the Bicol Region.
The Patanom Credit Cooperative (PACC) also shared their goal of transforming their farmer members into organic farming communities. With guidance from Agriterra, they conducted a series of organic farming orientation for members and carried out a marketing study to establish the local market in their areas. As a result, PACC was able to open 12 sales outlets of organic rice produce sourced from their members.
Another client Abrasa Multi-Purpose Cooperative (AMPC) is working to become the top producer of cassava in the Cagayan Valley region. By end of December, the cooperative has 600 cassava growers and 900 hectares of cassava. They also completed the study on high-yielding crops which they submitted to the Department of Agriculture (DA) for review and the results of which they plan to share with their members.
The impact stories shared by the clients are examples of how Agriterra’s programmess are helping agricultural cooperatives achieve their goals and navigate through a complex business environment filled with uncertainty. At the same time, the inputs of client cooperatives will be used to inform the strategies of the country team on how to improve its service delivery and to strengthen the overall relationship between Agriterra and its partners.
Farmer Focused Transformation: Goals 2025
During the event, Agriterra introduced the Farmer Focused Transformation approach as its overarching strategy towards its vision of making professional cooperatives and farmer organisations an engine of progress and key to sustainable economic development. The strategy will be the basis of the Philippine country team for deeper and more impact-oriented engagement with local partners in the coming years.
The Farmer Focused Transformation strategy is anchored on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and SDG 2: Zero Hunger. Its main trajectories shall be towards lobby and advocacy, farmer-led business, and sustainable services.
Through this approach, Agriterra aims to support 1 million farmers through 320 farmer organisations by 2025. This goes alongside mobilising 110 million euro from financial institutions and lobby and advocacy proposals to support organised farmers. Within this timeframe, Agriterra targets to set up and operationalise 30 new farmer-led enterprises that will improve farmers’ access to markets and agri-services. This will support 10,000 direct jobs and 110,000 on-farm jobs. The Farmer Focused Transformation strategy will also include and touch on cross-cutting issues on gender equity, youth empowerment, and climate action.
Agriterra Philippines will contribute to these goals through continued provisions of its services to existing and potential clients, from selecting ambitious organised farmers to providing them the skills to thrive in their businesses through training, business advisory services, and knowledge exchange.
Agriterra Philippines is also implementing the Generating Rural Opportunities by Working with Cooperatives (GROW Coop) Project in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The project develops successful agri-based cooperatives, federations, and private companies into Local Resource Organizations (LROs) that provide mentoring support to growth-oriented small and medium agricultural cooperatives (GOACs). This will eventually result in their improved governance, operations, and sustainability in the selected value chains of the LROs, while similarly resulting in improved socio-economic conditions and expanded rural livelihood opportunities for farmers.
With the roadmap laid out until 2025, Agriterra Philippines commits to supporting and working with agricultural cooperatives in fulfilling and getting recognised for their important role in rural transformation, food security and sustainable agriculture in the country.
*A big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG, is a clear and compelling target for an organisation to strive for.