DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 07 January) – As 2021 gives way to 2022, we can only cross our fingers that the gains of the last quarter of 2021 – especially in regard to the improvement of the pandemic situation – would be sustained for the rest of the year. But our earlier optimism during the Christmas holidays was instantly dashed as 2022 approached with the recent news report that the Omicron infections had risen up in Manila and this variant may already have spread to other urban cities in the country.
Still we hold on to some of the hope that came along as we enjoyed the holidays before the outbreak of the latest development of this pandemic that refuses to go away. Before the end of 2021, I had the chance to visit the Maragusan Valley in Davao de Oro. Apart from providing the much needed respite – given the last two years’ deprivation of enjoying the joys of being able to travel to far distant lands – the 3-day visit proved to be major moral boaster. This visit confirmed, once more, our belief that where a group of committed people band together towards common good, the result of such dogged cooperation results in a situation where – theologically speaking – God’s reign can already be glimpsed.
This is the case of the folks in Maragusan Valley through the collective efforts of the Magrow Cooperatives Movement. For more than half-of-a-century in this country, there have been widespread efforts at encouraging the setting up of cooperatives. Both the government agency tasked for this job and civil society organizations (including the Church’s Social Action Centers) committed to promoting cooperativism have allocated personnel and resources to organize co-ops. Through the years, there have been ups and downs of this movement, but the widespread failure of many of them seemed to have outweighed the success rates to sustain themselves in the long run.
Hundreds of efforts that went into the organizing of co-ops only caused heartaches to the organizers and deep frustration to the members which made it difficult for those wanting to re-introduce co-ops to start all over again, mainly because the ordinary folks have lost their enthusiasm for such initiatives. Years of corruption among the officers as well as the inefficiency of those administering the co-ops contributed to the downfall of this movement. Other factors of course include the wave of economic turmoil hitting this Republic. There is no question that one hears of success stories, but they have been few and their outreach remains limited.
Out of the blues, one encounters a cooperative such as the Maragusan Dole Banana Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (or Magrow for short). And listening to Magrow’s staff tell the story of how it began and what it has accomplished in 25 years since it was founded in 1994, one cannot help but be amazed at the success it has achieved not just for its members but for the good of the entire Maragusan Valley. It is one story that can at least bring back some of our initial hopes that cooperatives is one way to uplift the citizenry from poverty.
Magrow is a duly registered cooperative under the Cooperative Development Authority as per Registration No. 3019-DVO. Its main office is located at Rizal Street Poblacion Maragusan, Davao de Oro Province. This is Magrow’s official brief history as one can read in their FB wall: “It was founded by late Guillermo Agayan Sr., former GRGA (Growers Relation and Government Affairs) Officer of DOLE Stanfilco and was organized as a cooperative on February 14,1994.
“MAGROW had an initials members of 79 Banana Growers upon its registration on March 11,1994 to the cooperative Development Authority with Registration No.3019- DVO. Its first business was the bookkeeping of member/ growers’ books of account . On the second quarter of year 1995, the coop has started its Lending Operation with an initial capital of P 60,000,00.
“On November 17, 1997, MAGROW started servicing the grower’s harvest proceeds’ payment. In October 1998, the cooperative entered into an arrangement with the banana growers collective leaders to cater the payroll servicing of their farm workers. On September 2001, it entered into an FOB2 ex-patio contract with DOLE Stanfilco and catered the banana growers’ farm operations and reports and provided farm production materials.
“In 2003, MAGROW started the Labor Pool Operation which provided manning on the packing plant and other operations of the DOLE Stanfilco. The coop was registered to the Department of Labor and Employment as a Labor Service Provider with Registration No. XI-74911-1003-123.
“On October 8, 2005, MAGROW opened the Magrow Trade Center, the first consumer store in the town of Maragusan equipped with the point of sales system provided by MASS-SPECC. On November 25, 2008, it was granted one million Pesos (PHP 1 million) by the Department of Labor and Employment for its Livelihood Project which is the Banana Flour Processing Plant.
Its vision is: We, the Maragusan Dole Banana Growers Multi-Purpose is the number one cooperative in the province of Compostela Valley with excellent service and quality agri-products. Its mission: We, the Maragusan Dole Banana Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, commit to improve the quality of life of the members by providing excellent services and quality products, while ensuring the protection of the environment.
And its objectives include the following: a) To earn good financial returns for the cooperative and the members; b) To expand and increase quality membership in Davao de Oro and establish strong market for the products; c) To satisfy the members and customers with quality standard products and services; d) To strengthen capacities of the members, leaders, management and adopt appropriate support technologies; and e) To implement measures to contribute to the upliftment of the community and the protection of the environment.
For its track record of having shared its resources to the people of Maragusan Valley and for striving to provide opportunities to the underprivileged and the economically disadvantaged for them to rise beyond their limitation and pursue meaningful lives as productive members of society, Magrow has won a wide range of international, national and local awards from various government agencies and local units as well as civil society networks including cooperatives. These include being the awardee of the FIRST KABUHAYAN AWARD , as one the outstanding cooperatives in the Philippines.
Its Trade Center was awarded the DTI Bronze Bagwis Seal. The DTI-Bagwis Program “gives due recognition to establishments that uphold the rights of consumers while practicing responsible business where consumers get the best value for money.” It has consistently won as the top performing co-op in Region XI, top 12 in net surplus, top I3 in volume of business and Top 10 on total assets. No wonder, Magrow accounts for at least one-fourth of the total economy of the entire municipality. In fact, as soon as one enters the poblacion, one gets a feeling that this town is a showcase of cooperativism, with Magrow standing tall as its best practice!
When it was started in 1994, there were initially 79 members and their total capital amounted to only P60,000. At the end of 2021, there were a total of 8.675 members (860 regular and 7,815 associate members) with a total capital of more than P500 million. Its regular members include banana growers (landowners and privatized banana growers with BPPA contract), compulsory heirs (first degree relatives of regular members), land owners (under the relay cropping/banana farm management contract with Stanfilco) and community-based employees. No other government or private institution in the whole valley has as much outreach in terms of influence compared to Magrow.
Magrow’s products and services are specifically in savings and credit (including regular, equalizer, youth-oriented and golden savings, as well as time deposit, assurance savings and mortuary savings deposit, retirement savings) and loan products (including salary, appliance, all-purpose, commercial, production, educational, pension, banana and farm rehabilitation loans).
A very interesting aspects of Magrow’s attempt to encourage more savings is directed to the youth of the Valley through its Maragusan Youth Laboratory Cooperative. This involves three age groups: first the Aflatoun Savings which is offered to students of partner schools (age 5 to 17 years old), then the Youth Bee Smart Teen Savings (offered to children from 1 to 13 years old) and the Smart Teen Savings (for teenagers from 14 to 17 years old). To the delight of the parents who are members of Magrow, their children have began to appreciate the importance of saving for their future. This is one cooperative where in its everyday operations, kids of all ages come to do their transactions.
Meanwhile, the Magrow Trade Center holds the distinct privilege of being the most lucrative trade center in town with no stiff competition from any established malls. Located at the very center of the poblacion, it also has one outlet in Barangay Mapawa. It offers the following services: the consumer store, the farm-inputs store, the Agrivet supply center, a B2B printshop (for IDs and lamination), photocopying, encoding, printing of pictures, mimeographing, downloading, book binding and T-shirt printing. Name it and the trade center offers such a service. Housed in its main building is also the Magrow MPC clothing and textile operation where they produce men and women’s shirt and personal protective equipment.
AsMAGROW MPC is a partner agent of Social Security System (SSS), it performs the following SSS Transactions: Receive SSS salary loan application, payment for self-employed, voluntary, OFW and non-working spouse as well as for funeral/ death claim receiving. For its corporate social responsibility, Magrow has been engaged in bloodletting activity, circumcision operation, tooth extraction and has initiated a “Tree planting and Nurturing Activity for 5 years ” at Bagong Silang Water Shed in coordination with MAWASCO and DENR. It also sponsored a special program for the employment of students, capacity-building training for the Valleys indigenous people and first aid and basic life support training.
Led by a highly committed set of officers led by Mr. Jojo Sabella, chair of the board of directors (elected for already a few terms), Magrow is poised to face the future with optimism. When the pandemic also affected the Valley, the officers thought for a while it would seriously affect Magrow’s operations. But somehow, its food delivery program and continuing favorable services helped it to grow even in the worst of times.
As Maragusan Valley becomes a top favorite for local tourists, being billed as Davao de Oro’s summer capital – and rightly so, given its Baguio-like cool weather, the wonders of nature and adequate infrastructure – Magrow hopes to assist in developing an agro-tourism program to boast further Maragusan’s potentials. They also hope that whatever may happen to the banana industry (given its saturation point and other potential problems), Magrow would be able to provide the Valley’s citizenry with other options for livelihood.
One can only hope – for the sake of not just the people of this Valley but for the cause of cooperativism – that Magrow will continue to remain a beckon of hope for the people it has served through one-fourth of a century!
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]