The Calabanga Organic Producers Cooperative (COPC) has been in existence for only six years and has to date only 29 members but it is one of the most viable, well-knit and promising cooperatives in the municipality. It is composed of members engaged in small to medium agribusiness enterprise, professionals who are still employed or active in service, retirees, farmers and other agri producers and small entrepreneurs.

The coop is chaired by Elsie Tible – Masalunga a business woman and agri-entrepreneur who is a staunch advocate of organic farming and imbued with a high sense of social responsibility for the community. The coop is currently engaged in palay trading, rice milling and rental of farm machineries and equipment after being a recipient of the Department of Agriculture’s various farm equipment and postharvest facilities including the Rice Processing Center (RPC) I Project in 2018. This project worth over ₱5.4 million provides post-harvest package which includes the construction of a 300sq. meter warehouse building; a multi-pass rice-mill (double pass) with a milling capacity of 1 ton per hour; plus a capitalization fund worth P1million which was released to them the following year. The RPC is constructed inside the 1,500 square meter area purchased by the coop in Barangay Sto. Domingo of the same town. Isagani Bechayda, former Farm Operations Supervisor of Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. in the adjacent town of Bombon has been hired as the manager for its RPC I operations.

Aside from the postharvest facilities & equipment included in the RPC I Project the coop has also received from the DA under the Farm Mechanization program other interventions as follows: one unit recirculating mechanical dryer (biomass–fed) one unit of 4-wheel drive tractor which can till 3 hectares per day; one unit flatbed dryer which can dry 6 tons of palay; a combine harvester thresher with 35 horse power capable of harvesting 0.3 hectare per day; a walk – behind transplanter capable of transplanting 1.2 hectare per day; a grain collector which can collect 70 cavans per day per batch; a 420- square meter multipurpose drying pavement and multi-crop closed bagging machine.

According to RPC manager Bechayda the current asset of the coop is over P11 million for its equipment and machineries alone. On the first year of operation alone the coop earned over ₱150,000. He said that the COPC earns a revenue of about ₱2million from the rentals of these equipment and from palay trading since its full operation in 2017.

An important component of the RPC I program and other DA interventions is the training for the coop representative on Farm Mechanization which included operation and maintenance of the machineries equipment and facilities. The COPC has complied with this requirement. According to its general manager, Reynelia (Dayday) Sistena they make sure that all their equipment are cleaned and properly stored after every use. “Para mas matagal na magamit at mapakinabangan ang mga ito”, she explains.

“The coop has also set aside a specific budget for the maintenance and repair of these equipment”, says Teresita T. Viola, the coop secretary.

“May nakalaan talaga kaming budget para sa repair and maintenance of our equipment. Hindi naman dapat iasa na lang sa gobyerno. Libre na nga ang mga gamit na ito pati kapital” enthuses Sistena.

And that is usually the bane of some recipients of similar projects of the DA. When their equipment bog down they blame the DA for the poor quality of the equipment given them or rely on the DA to provide funds for the repair of their equipment. But it is clear in the MOA that maintenance and repair of the equipment should be borne by the coop or association.

The coop has recently applied for the DA’s Enhanced Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita with a proposed amount of ₱150,000 to be used for the purchase of store equipment and goods. Said amount has already been released to them and they have already set up their kadiwa store.

Having religiously complied with the mandatory trainings required to avail of government projects like the RPC the coop has also applied to the Agricultural Training Institute for accreditation as a Learning Site. Not only they have the trained personnel but they also have the facilities to be a training site.

The coop hopes to expand its membership even outside their municipality so that more would benefit from the services that its current members are enjoying. According to the coop’s general manager, Reynelia Sistena new members are required to give initial share capital of ₱2,000, subscription of ₱8,000, ₱250 membership fee.

Sistena and the other officers of the coop expressed their deep gratitude to the Department of Agriculture for all the assistance and interventions provided to them. “Hindi lang ang mga miyembro namin ang makikinabang nito pati na rin ang magsasaka dito sa Calabanga pati na rin sa karatig bayan”, Sistena continues.

The coop started as a small close group advocating natural farming for health reasons. They wanted to produce their own organic inputs, products and have their own market niche. The chairperson Elsie recalls that it was the DA which encouraged them to become a formal organization and be officially registered when they went to the agency to request for a shredding machine they needed for their vermicomposting.

Heeding the advice of the DA and united by a common goal and interest the group decided to formally organize themselves into a cooperative. Today, they are bound not only by their common interest to produce organic products and promote this to the community they have also realized that through the cooperative they can increase their income, savings, investments, productivity and purchasing power and they can serve the farmers in availing farm equipment and postharvest facilities at a reasonable rental fee and buy their palay and other farm produce at a fair price thereby offering a better option for the small farmers who have been at the mercy of some exploitive traders.

During the turn over of the equipment to the COPC, Mayor Eduardo Severo graced the occasion. He also thanked DA for its various assistance to the farmers of his municipality. “Ang role ng LGU dito ay suportahan at patatagin lalu ang ating mga cooperatiba at mga asosyon at ensure din namin na natutupad nila ang kanilang commitment at obligasyon din sa mga proyektong binababa ng iba’t ibang ahensiya ng pamahalaan para di masayang ang ano mang investment ng gobyerno para sa kanila at masiguro na ang mga benipisyo ay nag trickle down sa mga dapat makinabang at sa mas marami hindi lang sa iilan” the mayor explained. (Photo credits: Jun Collantes & Ramon Adversario/DA-RAFIS 5)