They started as a group of 37 women from Bicol unified by a common advocacy for entrepreneurship focused on green health technologies and promotion of best practices to help protect and preserve the environment such as organic farming and sustainable waste management.

“Ang Bikolanas Agriculture Cooperative po, naiiba sya dahil pinunan mi sya na ang gabos na miyembro mga Bicolanas–kababaihan na mga aktibong mga lider na gabos po imbuwelto asin nagtutubod na ang pag-uswag madadara sa paagi nin agrikultura maging production man yan, processing or merchandising ning mga agricultural products,” Maria Daisy Granada Geolin, the founding chairperson of the all-women coop, said.

Five years after its registration in August 12, 2016, Bikolanas Agriculture Cooperative (BAC) grew into an all-women organization composed of 400 members from Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon. From a starting capital of P37,000 generated from the 37 pioneering members’ share capital, the cooperative has expanded its product offerings. By connecting with various government agencies, particularly the Department of Agriculture (DA), Bikolanas Agriculture Cooperative was able to upscale its products that were grown, made, and packaged by its members—majority of whom are rural women. From selling dried taro leaves for laing as its original product, the Cooperative now offers a variety of products which include bottled Bicol delicacies, blue tea, BUHImian blankets woven by rural women-members from Buhi, Camarines Sur, and agri-commodities like rice, assorted fresh fruits, vegetables, and root crops.

However, establishing the Cooperative was not without its challenges. But true to the Bicolanas’ resilient nature, the BAC rose above natural calamities and the COVID-19 pandemic and unlocked the innate talents and capacities in responding to unexpected opportunities.

On November 16, 2020, the coop received a working capital worth P1 million from the DA’s Enhanced Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita Financial Grant Program. This enabled the Cooperative to purchase a multicab which improved the operation of their Kadiwa on Wheels and retail store located in Brgy. San Felipe Naga City, Camarines Sur.

“Napakalaki ng tulong sa amin ng Department of Agriculture na sa panahon ng pandemya hindi namin sukat akalain na yung napakalaking problema naging challenge sa amin, pero naging very big opportunity na kami ay na-qualify to be a beneficiary of the Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita,” Geolin said.

As of May 30, 2021, the Bikolanas Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita Project (Sustainable Agri-Food Value Chain Enterprise) has gained a gross income worth P4.68 million. Also, through market matching activities initiated by the DA-Bicol Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (DA-AMAD) headed by Adelina A. Losa, the Cooperative generated an actual sales worth P1.97 million in March 2021 by supplying rice to institutional markets like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and several local government units (LGUs) in Camarines Sur and Sorsogon.

The Cooperative also sees bright prospects with its partnership with DA and the Camarines Sur Chamber of Commerce’s Muramart mobile application. Bikolanas Agriculture Cooperative’s products are available through the mobile app which features FCAs and community-based organizations (CBOs) engaged in Enhanced Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita.

“Naheheling mi na sa panahon na arog kaining may pandemic, people should be limited talaga sa saindang movement, so dakulaon na maray na impact ang MuraMart,” Geolin said. Moreover, the Bikolanas Agriculture Cooperative was among the farmers and fisherfolk cooperatives and associations (FCAs) that qualified as beneficiary of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) Mechanization Program. Through RCEF, the Cooperative received one unit four-wheel tractor, one unit hand tractor, one unit rice combine harvester, and three units mini rice thresher.

“Kung pagyayamanin lang talaga ng husto yung agrikultura, maraming matutulungan na magkahanap-buhay at siyempre, umunlad ang buhay… Pinatutunayan po ngonian kan samuyang experience with the Department of Agriculture na kung kita makikipag-cooperate and mag-aaram kita kung ano ang puwede tang mapakinabangan dae po kita maghalat lang and seryosohon ta po na talagang kung tinatabangan kita, tatabangan ta din ang mga sadiri ta then dae talaga mawawara ang possibility na kita mag-uswag – na mabawasan ang pagtios sa Pilipinas,” Geolin added.

The Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita program, funded under the P31 billion-worth Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Laban sa COVID-19 or the Plant, Plant, Plant Program is designed to harness private sector participation, enhance the capacities of FCAs and build CBOs’ participation in the food supply distribution system to guarantee the availability and accessibility of food commodities in high consumer demand areas, particularly among families with limited income. The program has four modalities, the Kadiwa Retail Selling, Kadiwa on Wheels, Kadiwa Online and E-Kadiwa. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)