By Zac B. Sarian

Some 20 years ago, in December 1995, a group of struggling but very determined widows and women farmers in Solsona, Ilocos Norte decided to form a multi-purpose cooperative with no intention of accepting males as members. They called it the Nasalukag Women’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

“Nasalukag” is an Ilocano word that speaks of go-getters, active doers, entrepreneurial, alertness, and things to that effect. The founding chairperson, Anita Benito, is a 64-year-old widow who cultivates three hectares for rice seed production. Probably because most of the members are small rice growers, the main business of their cooperative is centered on palay procurement and rice trading.

Of course, they started in the rice business because they did not have enough capital in the beginning to undertake trading. In fact, with the Php5,000 each that the 20 women members chipped in, they were only able to operate like a sari-sari store, using an abandoned chicken house as their place of business. They bought and sold basic necessities like soap, cooking oil, coffee, and sugar.

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By the end of the first year of operation, they were able to save Php20,000 which they used to purchase more goods for sale. They didn’t give themselves any salary for the first two years. It was really a sacrifice but they were determined to succeed.

Why no male members? Perhaps they wanted to prove to the male-dominated co-op that was then operating that women can do better. Anita said that the leaders of that co-op had tried to block the registration of the women’s cooperative. But the men could not do anything to prevent the women from organizing their own co-op. After all, they were eligible to do so.

And they have been able to prove that the women can really do better than the men. The men’s co-op has long since gone bankrupt while the “Nasalukag” women are doing good business. They have their own doable strategies to succeed. The initial Php5,000 capital that they started with has now grown to Php9 million in assets which include a prime lot, a building and warehouse, and an Elf truck for hauling, and inventory.

Palay procurement is their main source of income. They buy the harvest of small farmers who usually sell all their palay right after harvest and then buy just a couple of cavans of milled rice later.

The co-op sells the palay it buys to the National Food Authority (NFA). From October 12 to December 28, 2015, Benito said they were able to deliver one million kilos (kg) of palay to the NFA. They bought the palay at Php16.50/kg and sold the same for Php17.40/kg to the NFA, making a gross profit of Php900,000 in a short span of time.

There is also a program of NFA that the Nasalukag women are taking advantage of. This is what they call FOBB or farmer’s option to buy back the palay that the co-op supplied to NFA. How does the co-op make money from the scheme? Well, women look for possible buyers at a higher price somewhere, like when they met a buyer who was willing
to buy palay at Php19/kg. They bought back what they supplied to the NFA for Php18.10/kg, and passed this on to the same buyer from Bulacan at Php19/kg. Again they made a profit of 90 centavos per kilo.

Rice Store

The co-op also runs a store in the public market where it sells NFA as well as commercial rice. The saleswoman does not have a salary but she gets a commission of Php50 per sack that she sells. The directors of the co-op find it much better to sell rice in the public market and not in the co-op office. Why? That’s one way of avoiding sales on credit. In the public market, the customer cannot buy rice on credit.

As of today, there are only 80 members of the cooperative. To become a member, you should be a woman farmer. Benito says they are not keen on accepting more members as they find it much more manageable to have a relatively small membership.

To us, their business strategies are simple enough. They are well focused on the business they are most familiar with. Benito has only finished high school but she speaks good English and has practical business sense. The only college graduate whom they hired as manager is Maybel Indasen, who finished a course in development communication at the Mariano Marcos State University. And they only have one male employee: the driver of the truck, who is the son of one of the members.

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Grants

The Nasalukag women don’t solicit donations because they think they can make do with what they have. But people and agencies who admire what they have been doing have been generous enough to offer financial assistance. For instance, the New Zealand government gave them a grant of Php200,000 for the promotion of the use of organic fertilizers. The Canadian government, on the other hand, gave Php160,000 for other purposes. And when Governor Imee Marcos was a congresswoman, she gave a grant of Php40,000 to add to their capital.

The Nasalukag women are, of course, thankful for the donations that they received but they are not soliciting them.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s April 2016 issue.