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Friday, April 25, 2014

NMI agri sector takes first step toward creating cooperative

California Center for Cooperative Development executive director E. Kim Coontz and assistant director and food and agriculture cooperative development specialist Luis Sierra address the participants of the Agricultural Cooperative Development Training yesterday. (Clarissa V. David) The challenges facing the CNMI’s agricultural industry present opportunities that can be tapped and further enhanced with the establishment of a cooperative, local farming leaders said Wednesday at the opening of the Agricultural Cooperative Development Training.

Some 130 agricultural producers on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota took part in the three-day workshop at the Hibiscus Hall of Fiesta Resort & Spa, which aims to provide training on cooperative business structures and strategies.

Ross Manglona, Northern Marianas College – Cooperative Research, Extension and Education Service director, said that developing an agricultural cooperative in the Commonwealth is “a step forward” for an industry that is “at a crossroad.”

Manglona said that rising production costs and labor and immigration uncertainties are among the issues that confront farmers daily. In this day and age, he said, farmers also need to respond to the increasing food production needs as tourist arrivals gather speed.

A cooperative, Manglona noted, is one detail needed to secure a “better” performance for the CNMI’s agricultural community, adding that a successful cooperative would require the active participation of all farmers.

Secretary Arnold I. Palacios of the Department of Land and Natural Resources agrees, saying that the opportunities that arising from the challenges would provide “mutual benefits” for farmers and other agricultural producers.

Palacios also underscored the need to share the “wealth of knowledge” that industry players have gained from previous cooperatives, which he said would valuable in the development of a successful agricultural industry in the islands.

The three-day training is being conducted by California Center for Cooperative Development executive director E. Kim Coontz and assistant director and food and agriculture cooperative development specialist Luis Sierra. Both have extensive experience starting up and working with cooperatives.

Wednesday’s whole-day training involved discussions on cooperative definition, concepts, and types, steps, and resources in production and marketing process. The event also featured case studies and exercise and would continue throughout today and Friday.

Ramon B. Camacho, president of the Saipan Sabalu Farmers Market, Inc., which received the technical assistance grant to make the training possible, said he looks forward to the creation of a cooperative in the CNMI.

According to Camacho, the cooperative is one puzzle piece that would be critical to ongoing efforts to promote agri-tourism, encouraging farmers to continue this important and long-standing tradition.

Camacho said their group will work hard to have the Garapan Fishing Base complex be used as the site for a proposed farmers market on island.

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