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Co-operatives Build a Community

 

 

A resort with a wave pool in Cebu, Philippines; a Natural Dream park in Gurye, Korea; a modern flower auction facility in Holambra, Brazil. What do these diverse activities in different cities have in common? Co-operatives? Yes! But, that is not the only reason they are connected. These are fine examples of co-operatives not just engaging in an activity but building a thriving community.  What makes these co-operatives unique is their central focus on member needs and interests, working towards a shared future, constant innovation, transparent communication, and dedicated leadership.

 

Why can’t a farmer enjoy the luxury of a beach resort?

Why should the luxury of lazing by the pool or enjoying the waves in a wave pool be just the past time of city folks and the well-heeled? Why can’t our farmers enjoy downtime with their family in resort settings? These were the thoughts the board and staff of Lamac Multi-Purpose Co-operative (LMPC) in Barangay Lamac, wrestled with when deciding to build the Hidden Valley Wave Pool Resort.

 

The foothills of the rugged mountains in Barangay Lamac, close to Pinamungajan town in Cebu, Philippines is not a place one would go searching for a resort. The narrow, winding road that is in many places unpaved, makes it a difficult drive. The day we were driving to LMPC, there were three big tourist buses carrying students to the resort ahead of us that were struggling to navigate the terrain and at one point got stuck. LMPC had to arrange vehicles to pick the stranded students. The popularity of the resort has the barangay on the tourist map of Philippines and the Department of Tourism has sanctioned funds to get the roads paved in concrete. 

 

Once we reach the Hidden Valley Wave Pool Resort, a different world opens up. Wide open spaces, lush trees, well laid out foot paths, and of course, the tempting wave pools! We were welcomed with a song and dance performance by a group of enthusiastic youth. Youth form an important element of LMPC’s membership; there are 20,812 of them as Associate members out of 76,217 members or 27% of the members. Of the, 55,405 regular members there are 40,333 women and 15,072 men. The gender focus is seen not only in the member base but also at the board and governance level.

 

LMPC had its origins in 1973 when a group of 70 farmers came together to form the Lamac Samahong Mayon with an initial capital of P3,500 (US$70). Today LMPC has total assets of P1.5 billion (US$30 million), share capital of P429.9 million (US$8.6 million), and deposits of P611.5 million (US$12 million). Ms. Elena Limocon the enterprising General Manager who has been part of LMPC from its early day’s attributes much of their success to a sense of purpose. “As a primary co-operative, understanding member needs has been key. Starting with savings and credit, we moved to improving agriculture, building allied activities linking farmers to market. We also looked at issues which affect a member, be it health, education or any other. We also focused on governance, gender and youth. Without succession, there is no sustainability.”

 

At the 2016 ICA-AP Youth Summit in Bali, we organized the Co-op Pitch, to seek ideas from youth about the types of co-operatives they would like to start. The first prize was won by Justine Lynn Limcoon and Kevin Paslon from LMPC for their pitch to set up an organic farm that would connect youth (and tourists) with sustainable agriculture practices and promote tourism. I was delighted to see that the idea is now a reality and had the privilege of taking part in the ground-breaking ceremony! LMPC has invested in a farm where youth are trained in organic farming, provided a space where they can meet and which will form part of the tourist attraction.

 

What does it take to get a young person to rural areas?

A Rock festival for sure![1] Agriculture? Not so sure. This is what iCOOP Korea is trying to do. Making agriculture and allied activities an attractive option for youth to stay in rural areas, provide a space that has all the amenities they are looking for, and promote a culture of caring for the environment. The Gurye Natural Dream Park was born out of this desire and the support of 230,000 women members of iCOOP who invested $77 million made this a reality!

 

Gurye county located in the province of Jeollanam-do in the Southwest of Korea takes around four hours to reach by road from Seoul. The Natural Dream Park situated over an area of 149,336㎡ uses renewable energy (solar and geo-thermal) and the facilities include accommodation, medical center, movie theater, restaurant, café, sauna, meeting rooms, etc. The 15 state-of-the art manufacturing facilities and logistics center on site generate an annual turnover of $53 million through the food and distribution services. The park employs 464 persons, 80% of whom are from Gurye-gun area and the hourly wage of employees at KRW 7,300/hour ($6.48) is more than the legal minimum of KRW6,040/hour ($5.22). The park has contributed to the revitalization of the local economy by attracting over 100,000 visitors annually, creating jobs, increasing the market for local produce, hosting rock and film festivals, supporting local students through scholarships, donating goods,

 

iCOOP began in 1997 as an association of consumers and producers. Group purchasing is at the core of iCOOP’s business activity. Starting from sourcing products at cheaper prices they have moved to looking at sustainable solution for their members by making efforts to create new items and new markets.  The i in iCOOP stands for individual, ideal, innocence and innovation.

Individuals promote the ideals (sharing and cooperation) of the group, never lose sight of our original innocence and practice innovation as a consumer co-operative. Respect for people and labor (human-oriented economy, not the capital-oriented); ensuring food safety (production and consumption of safe food made without toxins; improvement of food safety standards) and protection of agriculture and the environment are at the core of their operations. Starting with 600 members (in 1998), iCOOP today has over 230,000 members (mostly women and one of the few organizations with large representation of women at the board and leadership level); the number of member co-operatives has increased from 6 (in 1998) to 85 (in 2015); and their business turnover has increased from KRW 1.5 billion (in 1998) to KRW 427 billion (in 2013).

 

Last year a group of us had the opportunity to enjoy the Guyre facility, interact with the students and speak with iCOOP’s leadership. One of the members in our group asked Ms. Inja Park, the Chief Executive the reason behind their success in attracting members. It didn’t take a minute for Ms. Park to respond. It’s our Quality! “iCOOP’s members are women who have small children. For them, the most important thing is safe and quality food. We guarantee that through our natural farms, emphasis on the environment, and standards. You can say, for us, quality begets loyalty!”

What is the best of nature, available to all?

What better reflects this then bright, blooming, colorful flowers? Right?! Holambra, a city of 13,000 (it became a city in 1993) accounts for 45% (or more) of all flower production in Brazil and can rightly claim the title of Brazilian Flower Capital. Here, the modern Cooperativa Veiling Holambra headquarters can be considered the presidential palace! Spread over 80 hectares, with constructed facility of 79,000 sq.m, and electronic trading and online information to clients and partners this building is a tribute to the co-operative business model.

 

The story of Holambra (Holland + Brazil) began in the late fifties when three Dutch farmer families arrived in Brazil to start cattle breeding business. When this failed, they switched to the next best option for the Dutch, flowers. Carrying the Dutch tradition of co-operatives, they organized a flower co-operative. This small initiative began to grow and along the way introduced product intermediation; sales system with reverse auction, known as klok; and technology to improve production and to preserve the shelf life of the flowers. A report looking at flower production in Sao Paulo area had this to say, “One of the reasons for the success of flower culture in the city is the organization of the productive chain. The Holambra Agricultural Cooperative, for example, already counts on 279 associated companies (it is now 400), some even from other states, which answer to 60% of national flower production.” Speaking to a group of us amazed co-operators, Andre Van Kruijssen, the Chief Executive of Veiling-Holambra said, “We can proudly claim that co-operative built the city!”

 

The center of Veiling Holambra’s operations revolves around auction. The clock, also known as klok, is the heart of the commercial system of Cooperativa Veiling Holambra. The Klok displays all the information regarding products on sale, allowing the commercialization of a large amount of products in record time. Currently there are three kloks performing simultaneous auctions of cut and pot flowers, plants, and ornamental plants. On an average, a batch is acquired every 1.5 seconds. This system is known for the speed with which transactions occur (a batch is acquired every 1.5 seconds). The auction occurs in reverse, i.e., it begins with the maximum price, which decreases as time passes, until the buyer picks up the goods. While 55% of the flower are sold this way, the remaining 45% is sold through intermediation. Here the buyer makes contact with the seller (the sales department of Veiling Holambra) through telephone or Internet and makes the purchase. The day we were visiting the board members were discussing proposals to add to the ICA principles that would further strengthen the cooperative!

 

In conclusion

Maxwell Haywood, UN Focal Point for Cooperatives who was with us on the Veiling Holambra visit could not hide his excitement. A day earlier during at a development seminar, he had remarked, “Co-operatives are very shy; they need to tell their stories. Veiling Holambra is exactly what I was telling yesterday. Why doesn’t the world know about their success story? We need to get on rooftops and shout their story!”

As I close, I can’t help but, recollect lines from John Lennon’s, Imagine. 

 

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

 

No, John, this is no dream, it's a reality that LMPC, iCOOP and Holombra…. are living through their Hidden Valley, Natural Dream Park, and Viling Holambra! I hope we can join them in our own way in our own places in our own co-operatives.

 

The views expressed are my own in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of ICA or any of the members I have highlighted. But, I am sure all with share in the admiration of the work of these cooperatives!

 

An Article by 

Mr. Balu Iyer, 

Regional Director- International Co-operative Allaince Asia and Pacific.

 


[1] The Fourth Rock Festival will be held on 19 August 2017

http://icoop.coop/?p=7978671&utm_source=newsletter&ckattempt=1?