Part 2: Communities Creating Solutions

Visiting the Philippines earlier this year, I witnessed the domino effect of changes that can result from a specific action – if it starts with people building on their strengths and working together. Small-scale rice and corn farmers in northern Luzon, the country’s largest island, are organizing cooperatives to solve their grain storage problems. They first develop a vision and overall plan for their community’s development, and then organize the grain storage project with residents’ contributions.

This process is facilitated by the Community-Based Development Program (CBDP) of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, supported by Episcopal Relief & Development. The participating families contribute unskilled labor, food and other resources during the construction phase. The warehouses are typically 24 by 30 feet, with an adjacent pavement for spreading the grain out to dry in the sun. (And when possible, they add a basketball hoop to the pavement for use in between harvests. I hadn’t realized that basketball was so popular in the Philippines!) Each cooperative sets user fees, hires a caretaker, and manages the maintenance and repair of the storage facilities.

But the grain storage is just a start, catalyzing a lot of other opportunities for farmers to increase profits and promote economic development in their communities. Through the group power of their cooperatives, they can buy seeds and fertilizer in bulk at a lower price. The farmers can also sell rice jointly to reach a quantity that will bring a higher price, and start savings and loan programs. My field visit ended at the most successful of these multipurpose cooperatives (MPCs), which has expanded over seven years with large drying and warehouse facilities, plus wholesale and retail operations.

So while I started out with an echo of the Old Testament, I ended the visit in the New Testament – reflected in the name the farming families chose for their now-thriving cooperative: The Holy Spirit Mission.

Dawn Murdock is the Resource Mobilization Officer at Episcopal Relief & Development.

Photos: Top right and left, the warehouse and drying area of Del Pilar, one of the mulitpurpose cooperatives (MPCs) organized through the Community-Based Development Program. Bottom right: The Holy Spirit Mission MPC.