MANILA -- The Philippines on Tuesday called for increased collaboration with other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in promoting agricultural cooperatives deemed important for poverty reduction in the region.

Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) Chairman Orlando Ravanera made the call as the country hosts the 7th ASEAN Cooperative Business Forum to provide opportunity for learning exchange and cooperation towards enhancing ASEAN economic collaboration through agricultural cooperatives.

“There is a remarkable economic growth in this part of the world, in Asia, as growing region. (But) how can you reconcile the reality that in Asia, 560 million are below the poverty line. Along that line, you know that the great equalizer is cooperativism,” he said in a press briefing.

Ravanera cited as an example the Philippines which is producing the number one coffee in the world, but remains a top importer of coffee.

He said cooperatives are now following value chain in producing various agricultural products.

Data indicated there are now some 26,600 cooperatives in the Philippines with some 14 million members.

Esther Penunia, Secretary General of the Asian Farmers Association (AFA), noted that aside from just providing sources of funds for growing and harvesting crops, cooperatives are also assisting the farmers in packaging their produce and bring these to mainstream markets.

“Because they are members of cooperatives, at the end of the day, after (undertaking) the value chain, the incomes they achieved are returned to them through patronage refunds, dividends. They can feel they really own the business,” she said.

For his part, Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan urged farmers to form cooperatives.

Cayanan said the department provides assistance, such as storage and drying facilities and warehouses, to organized groups or cooperatives.

“They can’t avail (this assistance) if they are not cooperative. (For) existing (cooperatives), we can keep on supporting them. In terms of access to credit, they serve as our conduits,” he added.

 Meanwhile, around 200 delegates from ASEAN members and other countries are expected to participate in the 7th ACBF slated from January 16 to 18 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Malate, Manila.

Hosted by the CDA, this year’s ACBF will focus in selected commodities –coffee, cacao, coconut, banana, rice and dairy.

Producers, marketers, distributors and clients will be converged and synergized to collaborate and integrate their efforts towards the goal of strengthening an inclusive value-chain using cooperatives as mechanism and medium. (PNA)