By Ann Cuisia
At first sight, the KoopMart in Malabog, Paquibato District, Davao City, may seem like any nondescript grocery store selling everything from canned goods and personal care items to chemicals for farmers’ land.
Malabog is one of the 14 barangays in Paquibato district, in the country’s largest city in terms of its land size of 2,444 sq. km—Davao City. The district, though, is predominantly agricultural. Meanwhile, the new neighborhood mart is ran by Malabog Agriculture Cooperative (MAC), the youngest of the three major cooperatives in Barangay Malabog. Ninety-five percent of its individual-members are farm workers.
“Farmers come here to buy Agway fertilizers and seeds,” said MAC Manager Reynold Lorenzana. “Previously, the nearest grocery store was NCCC-Calinan, which is about 24 kilometers from here. Our farmers need not travel that far for their basic necessities or farm needs anymore.”
Addressing a Low Hanging Fruit
Behind the unassuming store is a technology that may one day bring the farmers in the fringes into the online world. Manila-based technology company Traxion Tech, which also has a branch in Davao City, has set up the initial infrastructure that will both help the cooperative manage its operations and generate more revenue for its members; and give individual members a much-needed credit line for purchases at the KoopMart. The Cooperative enroll their members in a platform called Digicoop, which allows the latter to view their member records online. More advanced features facilitate loan processing, purchase of insurance, and fund transfers.
“We have farmers sending fillers that they want to join the cooperative,” reported Lorenzana. The KoopMart was an obvious attraction to farmers. Another is the credit line open to members. “Members who own shares of up to P3,000 in the cooperative are issued digiCOOP Circle Cards,” he explained. “They have credit lines equal to up to 50 percent of their Coop shares, which they can use as a cashless way to purchase goods from the KoopMart.”
Efficiency Thru Training and Tech
As a fledgling organization, MAC benefits from capacity building training and other funding assistance from the private sector and non-governmental organizations. In December 2020, MAC was the beneficiary of a fundraising activity initiated by the Ateneo de Davao University’s School of Engineering and Architecture for a forthcoming financial management, bookkeeping mentoring and handholding program.
While training hones the cooperative leaders’ competency in sustaining the operations of the cooperative, technology can bring efficiency as well.
“Through the digiCOOP platform, we are able to monitor our members’ credit history and from there, make decisions on whether we can further continue offering a credit line to each individual,” said Lorenzana. Similar to programs of big malls, MAC also rewards points (although in the cooperative world, the term is “patronage dividends”) for every member’s in-store purchase.
Not everything is as simple as it seems, though. Paquibato alone covers 27 percent of Davao City’s immense land area. Thus, while the Malabog-based cooperative has sufficient access to WIFI, not all of the member-farmers—particularly those in the outskirts—do. “While all members are given access to the digiCOOP platform, not all make it a practice to do so,” explained MAC Secretary Christine Mae Paguipolar. “It is not so much that they don’t want to. They just don’t have internet access from where they live.”
Paguipolar estimates that about 75 percent of all members are able to meet the required capitalization to be eligible for the digiCOOP Circle Cards. Meanwhile, only 50-60 percent of members can access the platform from a browser.
Despite the lack of Internet access, the farmers do not seem deterred if one were to go by the Cooperative’s latest membership rate. The digiCOOP Circle Cards were first rolled out in November 2020, when membership stood at 346. Over a month later, membership grew to 438 — a significant 27 percent jump.