With CNMI agricultural producers on the cusp of creating another cooperative, a visiting expert emphasized the need to understand the importance of “shared business” to make it successful.
California Cooperative Development Center executive director E. Kim Coontz said in an interview that a cooperative requires participation and commitment from its membership to set and maintain quality standards for their goods to make it competitive in the market.
Cooperative stakeholders, Coontz added, also must recognize their ownership value in the organization, which is in fact a “shared business.”
By doing so, Coontz said agricultural producers in the Commonwealth will be able to achieve “economies of scale” or the cost advantage, better access in marketing their products, and other benefits that a farmer cannot avail of when acting individually.
Coontz and Luis Sierra, CCDC assistant director and food and agriculture cooperative development specialist, facilitated the Agricultural Cooperative Development Training organized by the Saipan Sabalu Farmers Market, Inc.
The event, held at Fiesta Resort & Spa's Hibiscus Hall from Feb. 27 to March 1, gave participants in-depth training and understanding about the cooperative business model, the steps to starting a cooperative, and case studies on a variety of co-op models and experiences.
Coontz said Friday that the three-day training is only the first step toward having CNMI farmers establish their own cooperative.
“You want to do this in steps,” she said. “Forming a cooperative takes a while because you're forming a business.”
Coontz believes that local farmers are now ready to start up another cooperative, saying that they are “astute” and “good business people” because they know their own products.
“I think that by working together, they will accomplish even more,” she told Saipan Tribune.
While there is a lot of opportunity in creating a cooperative, Coontz reminds local farmers to bear in mind the pointers they've been taught, including the preparation of a business plan and conducting a feasibility study.
Coontz, whose extensive experience in cooperative development includes knowledge gained from a network of cooperative developers across the nation, said the main issues involving cooperatives “have to do with people.”
“People need to trust and to be transparent in the way they do their business. They need to be really clear. I think we all share the same issues and the same temptations and we all need to learn from each other,” she said.
Since the Commonwealth is a string of islands, Coontz recommends that each island have its own cooperative and that agricultural producers should have a focused co-op for their particular product. For example, vegetable growers should have a separate co-op from ranchers. These distinct co-ops, however, could interact through association.
Coontz said the CCDC looks forward to maintaining a relationship with the agricultural community in the Northern Marianas, adding that local farmers can also draw on resources and assistance through agriculture-related entities on island such as the Northern Marianas College's Cooperative Research Extension and Education Services and the Saipan field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
SSFMI president Ramon B. Camacho said the training was “very detailed” and provided them with the knowledge “that would make a cooperative ultimately work for us.”
Camacho said a core group has been created halfway through the training to make the agricultural cooperative a reality in the Commonwealth.
The group, composed of representatives of the SSFMI, NMC-CREES, Saipan & Northern Islands Municipal Council, and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, will be led by NMC-CREES director Ross Manglona.
Camacho said the group will work not only on the getting the co-op off the ground but will also request the Inos administration to designate the Garapan Fishing Base to the future cooperative.
Although the facility is reserved for a potential investor, Camacho said that $200,000 has already been approriated for the creation of a farmers market. With the efforts to create a co-op, Camacho said the government can assign the facility to the farming community until such time that the investor is actually ready to develop the property.
Camacho believes that they will have the support of the new administration as Lt. Gov. Jude Hofschneider is also a farmer and would be able to relate to the plea of the farming community.