By JAMES TABABA
On March 28, 2023, the Philippine government’s Department of Agriculture (DA) and the French government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, along with the Bureau of Exportation and International Partnership, organized the 2nd Philippines-France Agriculture Forum. The forum aimed to discuss important topics such as cooperative and clustering systems and the integration of small-hold farmers and fisherfolks in the global value chain.
The event opened with words by DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban and French Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Michele Boccoz, with the theme “Improving the integration of small-hold farmers and fisherfolks in the global value chain for agricultural commodities through cooperatives, clustering, and consolidation.”
DA Senior Undersecretary Panganiban expressed admiration for the French leadership of Europe’s common agricultural policy. He also expressed interest in exploring ways to broaden technical cooperation between the two nations in areas such as sustainable development, equitable access to economic opportunities, technology, innovation, human capital development, infrastructure, and rural economic policy. He emphasized that the history of the Philippines-France relationship is characterized by mutual trust, goodwill, and respect that have been repeatedly tested and proven over time.
“Today, we reaffirm our centuries-old ties by exploring new ways to enrich cooperation between our countries in this respect,” Panganiban said.
French Ambassador to the Philippines, Michele Boccoz, highlighted the importance of cooperation between the two countries to ensure food security amidst the challenges brought about by the pandemic and the current global situation. She emphasized that food security is a priority for everyone around the world. Boccoz also expressed interest in developing cooperatives in the Philippines as a means to achieve this goal.
“Food security is a priority for all of us around the world. The development of cooperatives in the Philippines could be a new contribution to this goal. And this is indeed what we like to focus upon today,” she said.
Ambassador Boccoz added that in France, cooperatives had played a key role in the development of agriculture, allowing farmers to access markets, purchase inputs and sell commodities at better prices, and gain access to agricultural equipment that they could not afford on their own.
The panel of speakers at the forum includes Agricultural Attache to EU Kristine Jeanne Yap, Bureau of Exportation and International Partnership Officer-in-Charge Martin Deruaz, and DA-Farm and Fisheries Clustering and Consolidation (F2C2) Program Director Shandy Hubilla. The forum was also attended by the Communication and Public Affairs Division Chief of the DA-Agricultural Credit and Policy Council (ACPC), Emmalyn Guinto, the Manager of La Cooperation Agricole International, Melanie Pressans, the Agrifood Counselor for ASEAN, Wilfrid Fousse, and the Manager and President of CUMA, Stephane Diard.
Furthermore, representatives from the private sector were also present to provide their valuable insights on the matter. Jollibee Group Foundation Senior Program Manager Joanna La’O and Kabisig Savings and Agri-Development Cooperative President Loreto Ramiro presented the private sector’s perspective during the forum.
Shandy Hubilla shared the Department of Agriculture’s F2C2 program. F2C2 stands for Farm and Fisheries Clustering and Consolidation Program. Its aim is to improve the competitiveness of small farmers and fisherfolk by grouping them into clusters or associations, enabling them to access support services such as financing, technology, and market information. Through this program, the government hopes to increase the income of farmers and fisherfolk, reduce poverty in rural areas, and promote sustainable agricultural practices.
“Our program aims to promote the strategy of clashing consolidation because of the small scale of our farmers,” he said. “We want to look at this process as enabling process, an empowering one for our cooperatives and association for them to achieve economies of scale and increase bargaining power.”
Melanie Pressans emphasized the significance of cooperatives in France as they contribute to the local economy by creating economic activities and job opportunities through sustainable territorial anchoring. In France, there are 2100 cooperatives, and 3 out of 4 farmers are active members of at least one cooperative. Even though 93% of cooperative members are SMEs or micro-enterprises, one out of three cooperatives exports its production, and in the market, one food brand out of three is produced by cooperatives.
Emmalyn Guinto summarized the importance of forming cooperatives and clusters to make Philippine products more competitive, inspired by the success of French cooperatives. Guinto provides some actionable insights to explore future collaborative projects between the Philippines and France to promote inclusive value chains. These include effective cooperative clustering structures, innovative cooperative investment strategies, market-driven production strategies, and group certification mechanisms. She also suggests considering activities such as mentorship programs and cooperative business or investment between the two countries.
“All of the things that we heard today in terms of what a cooperative should be in order for it to be successful here in the Philippines, we need to consider that ultimately this should lead to farmer members maximizing their membership to the cooperative by getting benefits and advantages to their farms for adaptation, preparation, sustainability for production through security, fixed remuneration guarantee that products are sold in the markets and of course for their image on food creation of local jobs and environment,” she said.