Last week I published an article about Bernadeth Carandang from Medina, Magallanes, Cavite, a high school teacher and secretary of Magallanes-Samahang Magsasaka ng Kay-apas at Medina Agriculture Cooperative (Mag-Samakame). I chronicled her journey from a high school graduate factory worker to a part time educator and agriculture worker in her capacity as farmer and coop secretary. Parallel to this, I wrote about Mag-Samakame, from its inception to its current status as partner supplier of produce to fast food chain Jollibee under the Jollibee Group Foundation’s Farmer Entrepreneurship Program.
Carandang, whose parents were with the coop from day one, not only witnessed how a group of farmers became a fairly successful cooperative, but was instrumental in its formation as well, as she was asked to become secretary during the coop’s formation.
An agricultural cooperative, also called a coop for short, is an organization composed of small farms and farmers who have pooled their resources to work together as a business entity and offer various services.
RA5920, also known as the Philippine Cooperative Code of 2008, defines a cooperative as an “autonomous and duly registered association of persons, with a common bond of interest, who have voluntarily joined together to achieve their social, economic, and cultural needs and aspirations by making equitable contributions to the capital required, patronizing their products and services and accepting a fair share of the risks and benefits of the undertaking in accordance with universally accepted cooperative principles.”
The Philippine government encourages the creation of cooperatives to allow small farmers to benefit from economies of scale, as well as to share in the responsibility for running a business. RA5920 states in its Declaration of Policy that “It is the declared policy of the State to foster the creation and growth of cooperatives as a practical vehicle for promoting self-reliance and harnessing people power towards the attainment of economic development and social justice.”
I asked Carandang, who played an active part in Mag-Samakame’s formation, what she thought the qualities of running a successful cooperative are. Here are her answers, which have been translated from Tagalog:
Trust. Nobody is forced to join a coop. Membership is always voluntary. Trust becomes important when working towards a common goal. Members have to trust that everyone has good intentions when it comes to the welfare of the cooperative. “We have to trust in the goal of the organization because that’s what we have to focus on,” Carandang said.
Consolidation. Carandang explained that a coop has many branches, which makes consolidation (the main point of its existence) especially important. “The coop consolidates those branches and it makes us more powerful,” she added.
Capital. Having adequate capital is important because it allows a cooperative freedom in making certain decisions that would have been challenging if the organization were constrained by cash flow. This might be a challenge at first, but if the cooperative is well-run, its members will reap monetary benefits in the future. This is, after all, the purpose of a cooperative.
Continuous learning. “The more knowledge we [absorb], the better,” Carandang said. However, she cautioned against just learning things or attending training sessions for the sake of learning or attendance, adding that there must be discernment when it comes to the imparting and application of knowledge so that it benefits both the individual farmer and the entire coop.
Labor capital. All coop members should be willing to do their part. More members means more people to divide labor amongst themselves. “There’s less chance of a lack [of labor] because [the coop] has enough [members] to utilize.”
Continuous lookout for opportunities. Carandang emphasizes making full use of government programs, especially on the LGU level, as this is how Mag-Samakame was formed and how it became part of the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program. “Why compare yourselves to other places? Ask around in your own area,” she advised. “[Your LGU] will give you ideas. Farmers can ask the office of the agriculturist in their LGU.”
Carandang is a big believer in the benefits of being a member of a cooperative because it’s something she continues to experience. “For us, the power of consolidation is the power of the masses,” she said. “We may be a lot [of farmers], but through consolidation, through cooperation, we can do much better.”