Agripool expert IJsbrand Snoeij has been on various assignments for Agriterra. This time, he was asked to conduct a Cooperative Assessment in the Philippines.
Together with three local Cooperative advisors from Agriterra, Snoeij visited the Taloy Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative (TAFARMCO), situated in the so-called 'salad-bowl' of the Northern Philippines, an area known for its many vegetable farming businesses. Snoeij explains: "A crucial aspect of the screening process is to understand why they are seeking collaboration with Agriterra. This indicates what they aim to change."
At present, TAFARMCO mainly maintains a financial relationship with its members. For instance, it lends money or charges interest. However, their ambition extends beyond just being a Saving & Credits Cooperative. There is a desire from the members themselves. TAFARMCO intends to explore what they can do in terms of marketing. Can they enhance the sales of the products within their cooperative? Snoeij explains, "Currently, all sales are conducted through intermediaries known as 'middle-men,' who purchase and resell the products. Yet, the cooperative could potentially take on this role, similar to cooperatives in the Netherlands."
Another aspect that the cooperative wishes to investigate is its involvement in the procurement and sale of resources, such as fertilizers or crop protection products. Snoeij notes: "This issue is sensitive because the use of crop protection products can affect soil and humans. As a cooperative, you have to be careful about what service you are going to offer to members. Additionally, climate change is a concern in the Philippines, requiring different considerations. Through a Climate Clever Check, we examine the cooperative's stance on climate change."
During the screening process, Snoeij and the local advisors also assessed the management, reputation, and business case of the cooperative. What trade is already underway? What are their plans for development? What ideas do they have, and how is their financial situation? "Like an audit team, we delve into the cooperative, attempting to evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities. This analysis culminates in a 'go' or 'no go' decision for collaboration. If it's a 'go,' an action plan is formulated, outlining who does what and when. Cooperatives must invest their own money and time. Agriterra's role is not just to provide funds but to share knowledge and experience."
Snoeij brought his knowledge and experience as a farmer and board member of various cooperatives in the Netherlands, emphasizing that this assignment heavily relied on teamwork. "You can effectively utilize each other's expertise. The cooperative advisors are familiar with the local context and often have established relationships with the cooperative."
Local cooperative advisor Krisha Marie Mecija adds: "The significant advantage of hiring an Agripool expert from the Netherlands lies in their ability to share valuable best practices from their own cooperative or business in the Netherlands. Their experiences and insights serve as a valuable benchmark and offer potential solutions for our cooperative. Moreover, the Agripooler's knowledge and advice can inspire our cooperative to continually strive for improvement and growth. Notably, IjJbrand's ability to establish a positive rapport with both the cooperative's authorities and its members fostered a conducive and productive atmosphere.”
In this assignment, fortunately, language was not a barrier. Snoeij remarks, "In previous assignments in Vietnam or Nepal, interpreters were always needed. However, this time, we could communicate directly in English."
Following the screening, the Agriterra team concluded that TAFARMCO has abundant opportunities to further develop its services. The production potential is vast, yet risks related to diseases, pests, and transportation abound, leading to some products not reaching their intended destinations. Additionally, they do not always effectively access the market through their own cooperative channels. Nonetheless, with a well-defined plan and Agriterra's support, the future looks promising.
Snoeij was impressed by the cooperative spirit in the Philippines, the genuine desire to work together. "The social values, such as wanting to be there for everyone and taking care of each other with love, play an important role. This is also the case in the Netherlands, but cooperatives here are also strongly financially driven. An important mission of TAFARMCO is to create a better income position for farmers. It's beautiful to see and experience how social and financial values can be interconnected."