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The Malabing Valley Multipurpose Co-operative

The Malabing valley is found in the northeastern part of the Sierra Madre Corridor, in Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines. Although maize and rice are still its major crops, citrus production has intensified since its introduction in the early 1980s. The mild climate, rich soils and forests provide unique conditions for the cultivation of various species of citrus, covering more than a thousand hectares. Citrus production is now the major on-farm income source for the valley population, and it has also resulted in significant improvements in the community itself, bringing new infrastructure, facilities and services to a valley which was once inaccessible. Much of this has been a result of the Malabing Valley Multipurpose Co-operative.

LEISA Magazine • 23.1 • March 2007

The Malabing Valley Multipurpose Co-operative

Cristina R. Salvosa

The Malabing valley is found in the northeastern part of the Sierra Madre Corridor, in Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines. Although maize and rice are still its major crops, citrus production has intensified since its introduction in the early 1980s. The mild climate, rich soils and forests provide unique conditions for the cultivation of various species of citrus, covering more than a thousand hectares. Citrus production is now the major on-farm income source for the valley population, and it has also resulted in significant improvements in the community itself, bringing new infrastructure, facilities and services to a valley which was once inaccessible. Much of this has been a result of the Malabing Valley Multipurpose Co-operative.

The journey towards a co-operative

The co-operative traces its origin to April 1989, when a group of local professionals led by Alfonso C. Namuje Jr. decided to explore the available options to improve the socio-economic conditions in their respective communities. One of these options was getting farmers to work together in one way or another. This core group first organised a farmers’ association at the valley level, while at the same time organising farmer groups in the six villages in the valley. They soon got assistance from the leaders of an existing co-operative (the Bambang Fruits and Vegetable Growers Co-operative), organising courses in co-operative matters and meetings with representatives of the different farmer groups and with potential members. They decided that for them, a co-operative was a better idea than a farmers’ association.

The core group then participated in a special training course to widen their knowledge in co-operative leadership and management, and later invited all farmers in the six villages to attend a co-operative Pre-Membership Education Seminar. The interest shown by all participants led to the creation of the co-operative. With 48 members, the Malabing Valley Multipurpose Co-operative was formally registered in March 1990, with the specific purpose of extending farm input loans, and primarily aiming at the production of citrus.

Work at first was difficult: the co-operative had limited capital, and as roads were bad and transport facilities limited, it was difficult to get a good price for the produce. As the production of citrus requires relatively high investments, the co-operative requested a production loan from a government financing institution to increase their working capital. This step proved to be very positive, as more farmers were then encouraged to join. Periodic courses and seminars were organised, while officers and management staff were sent to seminars on co-operative management and citrus production technologies.

After 16 years, the co-operative has now 389 members. The majority of its assets are invested in infrastructure, transport facilities, machinery and equipment for post harvest handling. The co-operative has made its mark in catalysing development within the valley: its linkages with the local government units and other non-government organisations helped it to improve the valley’s road network. To be accessible to members and potential clients, the co-operative has strategically located its marketing office in the business capital of Nueva Vizcaya. A trading post has also been established for members to display and sell their products.

Towards a more sustainable agriculture

The Malabing Valley Multipurpose Co-operative has ventured into non-traditional capacity building activities as a means to organise farmers in the valley, but also as a way to protect its natural resources. The co-operative has joined forces with some NGOs and the government in preparing a land use framework for a community-based forest management programme aimed at preventing uncontrolled conversion of open access forest lands into citrus and other agricultural activities.

The production system promoted is linked with the muyong, an indigenous system of the Ifugao people, where natural forests are managed as woodlots. These serve as sources of fuel and timber for local use and for the protection of the micro-watersheds. The co-operative takes an active part in the promotion of the muyong system to ensure that commercial interests will not result in the breakdown of the agroecosystem. The result has been encouraging as closed canopy conditions in the natural forest have reclaimed previously open canopy areas. The practice of swidden farming, commonly seen in the nearby forests, has been reduced. Citrus production is promoted because of its economic potential but also as a sustainable option. Around 800 families in the Malabing valley are now engaged in citrus farming, most of them are members of the co-operative. The use of organic fertilizers is fast replacing the application of chemical fertilizers, although the use of pesticides and herbicides have yet to be significantly curbed.

Some lessons learnt

The creation and development of the Malabing co-operative shows a number of key lessons in assisted self-reliance. The co-operative initiated activities to draw attention to the development needs of the community, venturing into high value agriculture, which ultimately paid off. Among the lessons learnt during these 16 years, we can mention that:

• Forming a shared vision is an essential first step in genuine cooperative building. A strong sense of “community ownership” was built from the very beginning, something that enabled the co-operative to mobilise and sustain strong community participation;
• Co-operatives can facilitate further community development. The strong institutional leadership of the co-operative enabled it to expand its mandate to bring vital social and economic services to the community by establishing linkages and partnership with government and non-government organisations;
• There needs to be a balance between traditional leadership and professional management. The strong indigenous culture of the community was a source of reliable traditional leaders, who wielded respect and authority. However, the elders saw the wisdom of encouraging the young professionals to take on leadership roles. As such, the co-operative is managed competently by its group of college-educated young people, who saw the promise of better life by going back to their community.

At the same time, this experience has shown that proper management of the natural resources is critical for a sustainable citrus-based production system, balancing income-generating activities with the conservation of the forest ecosystem.

Cristina R. Salvosa. Assistant Professor, Nueva Vizcaya State University, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, the Philippines.
E-mail: crsalvosa@yahoo.com

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