Sustainable cooperatives

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CHIT JUAN

CHIT JUAN

KNOWING that our farmers almost always belong to cooperatives, I was honored to accept an invitation from the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) and the Kooperatiba Naton of Tigbauan, Iloilo to speak at the First Cooperative Sustainable Agricultural Summit.

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While you may only have 200 co-op leaders in the audience, each one brings a membership of anywhere from 300 to 700 members. Do the math and you’d be speaking to 100,000 individuals, which is more than what the Madonna concert gathered at the MoA.

Now that’s the power of co-ops.

Truly the time of sustainable agriculture has come. When we think of the average age of farmers at 57—and that their succeeding generations will more likely choose to be OFWs and rather than farmers—you will surely worry about what the emcee said that “if one farmer quits, 24 Filipino families will not have rice to eat.”

So it was so timely that I met Eduard and Serma Tresico of Dreamers Valley in Tigbauan, a campsite for environmental seminars and an eco-tourism area. They also happen organic vegetable suppliers of our ECHOstore in Iloilo City. But more than just being natural farming advocates, Eduard teaches other farmers as far as Seven Cities or Alimodian, a highland town at 800 to 1,200 meters above sea level. There, Eduard teaches the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) how to grow lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots just like in Baguio.

At the summit, I met farmers from Alimodian who were so thankful to have found a market for their highland or upland vegetables. They now supply our ECHOmarket in Iloilo City through the kindness of Eduard who helps them bring down their produce.

I also met Alan, a rice farmer and engineer from Pavia, Iloilo—the town you pass through from the airport on your way to Iloilo City. Alan is a rice farmer but sells just rice, too. I suggested to him to do some value adding by having a diverse production of black, brown and red organic rice, which may also be turned into rice flour that is naturally gluten-free. Imagine organic, unpolished rice, which is healthier and can be used for many gluten-free dishes and desserts. He told me they had already made Black puto (rice cake) before, but he did not know which was his market for these. He found me.

Joy Palmada, another co-op leader from Pavia, and whom I met almost two years ago through the Great Women Project, claims she now has 700 members and an asset base of P28 million. These guys are not pushovers. They are progressive groups who empower our agricultural engines—the farmer members. One of her members is Ronavelle Amen, who now is known as the “Peanut Queen” because she has a thriving peanut and peanut butter business, now much in demand in our Manila stores. I love seeing these members progress and claim their place in the sun. Ronavelle now sells to government agencies, local traders and to specialty stores like ours. She must have discovered a new gold mine—unsweetened peanut butter made from natural and local native peanuts. It now is a preferred item as most peanut butters available in the market are more expensive because they are imported. Ronavel’s butters are local, organic and sustainable.

These are stories of hope and community progress. These are stories that make me want to keep speaking to farmers and cooperatives or similar groups.

I asked the group to define ECHO. They defined it as “Environment, Cooperative, Health and Organic.” Well, it was enough to get them into that mindset that windy cool afternoon in Tigbauan as I opened the summit. Even if ECHO actually means “Environment, Community, Hope and Organization” when we conceived it eight years ago.

I want to thank CDA Chair Orlando R. Ravanera, who listened intently while I gave examples of how co-ops power our sustainable farmers. I want to thank him for convening a powerful group of our future natural and sustainable farming experts.

That is the power of cooperatives—even more powerful and more influential than a concert queen or a champion athlete. I’m glad I got up close and personal with this powerful group.

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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao, Cebu City, Antipolo and Iloilo City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at puj@echostore.ph

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