Boosting Cooperatives to Support Farmers in the Philippines

Felipe CookLeland

Above: Leland Fellow Felipe Cook (left) with colleagues at CDP grand launch event in September, 2022.

Food security in the Philippines is facing steep challenges. Nearly three years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the Philippine economy. As one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, it was already facing the risks of flooding, earthquakes, and typhoons, such as Typhoon Rai, the strongest to hit the country in 2021. But COVID-19 was different: it radically changed the business environment and put many farmers and their businesses in a precarious state. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority the country’s annual growth rate dropped by almost 10 percent. The country’s 10 million agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable to disasters: agriculture has had the highest poverty rate of any sector since 2006, with at least 2.4 million people living below the poverty line1. Given that climate change will continue to increase risks, it is critically important to build the resiliency of the institutions that support smallholder farmers.

Agri-business cooperatives are a popular business model in the Philippines, but they have struggled to compete in the new post-pandemic landscape. Cooperatives build trust by providing essential services to their communities, such as microloans, large-scale loans, and savings products for their members. Cooperative members often describe these financial services as essential because of their ease of use and access. Cooperative services also include technical assistance with farmers’ agri-businesses, business development, and entrepreneurship trainings. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – cooperatives can aggregate the farmers’ products, selling products and buying inputs at scale for a significantly better price. By providing these essential services to their communities, agri-business cooperatives have become a key lever for change.

Despite considerable progress in their recovery, Philippine cooperatives remain in need of technical assistance. ACDI/VOCA’s Cooperative Development Program (CDP) in the Philippines will implement a five-year, USAID-funded multimillion-dollar effort to provide this assistance, building on ACDI/VOCA’s extensive network from previous cooperative development programs and expertise in agriculture, resilience, finance, equity, and inclusion.

This support will foster broad-based economic growth, raise living standards, and help build dynamic agricultural value chains. CDP Philippines specializes in three areas: (1) upgrading cooperatives’ ability to plan their business by introducing good governance and management protocols; (2) upscaling cooperatives by supporting them in digitizing their product services; and (3) up-linking cooperatives into new stakeholder partnerships.

In conclusion, cooperatives form an essential link in the Philippines food system. By improving the capacity of coops to provide members with essential services, CDP Philippines is directly augmenting the food security situation for many small holder farmers. Cooperatives are trusted by their respective communities because of the services they provide to their members and indirectly to those members’ families. Improvement in the delivery and caliber of these services will increase the quality of life for coop members and their communities. Additionally, because the Philippines is prone to natural disasters and the effects of climate change, cooperatives will serve as a great leverage point to continue to develop increased environmental sustainability, disaster preparedness and resiliency in the system.

  1. Enano, Jhesset O.; Rebecca Tan and Regine Cabato. As disaster hits the Philippines again, a farmer’s sorrow reveals the stakes. Washington Post. Retrieved from []

About the Authors

Cook headshot

Felipe Cook

Leland Fellow

Felipe Cook was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, at 30 below. He later graduated from the University of New Mexico with a BA in Political Science and included a year of international policy studies at the University of Leeds, U.K. Felipe worked in education in the Teach For America Phoenix Cohort teaching science and mathematics to students and as an agricultural extension agent in Senegal with the Peace Corps. Upon returning stateside, he worked as a forestry technician in Mammoth Lakes, California, with the US Forest Service. Most recently, he worked as a programmer and data analyst for avionic and unemployment services in New Mexico. Felipe’s primary interests are at the intersection of poverty reduction, climate change, and food security.

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