CNMI farmers will be taught the ropes of organizing and sustaining their own cooperative with the help of a federally funded training at the end of this month, strengthening efforts to sustain crop and livestock production and food security in the community.
The Agricultural Cooperative Development Training will take place on Feb. 27 and 28, from 8am to 4pm, and on March 1, from 8am to 1pm, at the Hibiscus Hall of Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan in Garapan.
Farmers from Tinian and Rota also will have the opportunity to undergo the free training, which is open to U.S. eligible farmers, through video teleconference.
The training is part of a $1 million technical assistance grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Insular Affairs to the CNMI Department of Commerce, a portion of which (over $45,000) was endowed to the Saipan Sabalu Farmers Market, Inc.
In a news briefing yesterday, organizers said the training primarily aims to provide farmers an in-depth look at the cooperative business model, from the overview of cooperatives to the steps in starting an actual cooperative.
The creation of a cooperative in the Commonwealth would address the issue of consistency in food supply to crop buyers, a problem that has hounded the local agricultural community for three decades, according to Michael M. Ogo of the Northern Marianas College Cooperative Research Extension and Education Service.
Ogo said the cooperative would ensure that buyers are “not left out in the cold” since local agricultural producers are able to deliver their needed volume of products, preventing importation and keeping the money within the Northern Marianas.
The three-day training will be conducted by two experts from the California Center for Cooperative Development, a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports cooperatives of all kinds with start-up, management and other technical assistance.
Executive director E. Kim Coontz has over 20 years of experience working with cooperatives and has authored and co-authored numerous articles and publications. Assistant director Luis Sierra is an expert in initiating and developing small agricultural marketing organizations to carry out marketing strategies, including agricultural cooperatives, farmers' markets, and investor-owned businesses.
“Both consultants have extensive experience and will bring their case studies and success stories to the CNMI community so that we can use them as a model,” said Ogo.
He said the two have been communicating with NMC-CREES for background information on the Commonwealth's circumstances and identify strengths and weaknesses, all in an effort to tailor the training based on the experience of the islands.
Farmer leaders said the training will be vital to the growth of the local agricultural industry and could motivate the younger generation to explore a trade that has been a part of the island culture for generations.
Agricultural consultant Isidoro T. Cabrera said the training would pave the way for another cooperative to be established in the Northern Marianas. A former director of the defunct Saipan Farmers Cooperative Association, Cabrera hinted that a cooperative can be instrumental in bringing back the glory days of agricultural producers in the CNMI.
SSFM president Ramon B. Camacho said a cooperative could also address the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes and crime rates as farming will promote consumption of natural and healthy food as well as give the youth something to occupy their time.
Organizers are targeting 100 participants from Saipan and 25 each from Tinian and Rota. Only limited slots are available so eligible farmers are encouraged to sign up by contacting Joaquin Deleon Guerreo (Saipan) at 234-5498 ext. 1707, Lawrence Duponcheel (Tinian) at 433-0639 or Alejandro Badilles (Rota) at 532-9513.