Bouncing Back Better: Lessons Learned From The Impact Of Covid-19 To F2F COCOS Host Organizations
By Beverly Brul and Arcee Pila
Posted on 08/18/2023
Two years after COVID-19 pandemic hit the Philippines, 92.33% of the target population have been fully vaccinated, of which, 24% have received booster shots as of August 2022 . While active patient cases peaked at 205,557 in January 2022, there has been an observed decrease in infections to date (0.94% as of August 2022). During the same period, a memorandum was released in preparation for the transition to the endemic phase of COVID-19.
To help prepare Farmer-to-Farmer capacity-building for the Coconut Sector (F2F COCOS) host organizations in successfully managing the anticipated struggles of a post-pandemic economy, Grameen Foundationhas continually worked in connecting highly skilled volunteers with host organizations throughout the past two years to improve the organizational, technical, and management capacity of agricultural cooperatives, agribusinesses, and farmer organizations. In 2020, the Grameen F2F COCOS team launched a longitudinal study on the impact of Covid-19 to its host organizations. The research looked into the different organizational and business factors that reflected the dynamic condition and direction of host organizations through the different phases of the pandemic. On its third survey, the study grew to include more host organizations that were newly onboarded to the program. A total of fifteen (15) organizations situated in seven (7) regions in the Philippines were interviewed to understand the impact of the current stage of the pandemic on their respective businesses: the recourse measures they have implemented to sustain their operations; and their perspectives resiliency and plans for sustainability. The previous COVID-19 impact surveys were conducted in June 2020 and February 2021 respectively.
Business Operations in the Second Year (2021) of the Pandemic:
Workforce Composition: Half of the host organizations (7) reported to have 51-75% of their workforce to be women. Workers within the host organizations also tend to be older adults, while youth (ages 18-29) comprise only 10% of their workforce.
Business Operations: By the end of 2021, 13 out of 15 host organizations have already resumed their operations, in varying capacity while the remaining two (2) host organizations have temporarily suspended their business activities due to challenges in management, competitive market impacts, health risks to elderly members, and internet accessibility limitations. Among the 13 hosts that are currently in operation, a big majority (9) have returned to their normal operating capacity, while two (2) host organizations have reduced their services, capacity and staff; and two (2) hosts have downsized their workforce and have opted to work in shifts. Host organizations experienced fluctuations in staffing in the past two years due to staff resignation, retrenchment, shortened work hours, lesser workload thereby reduced employee compensation and benefits. Staff replacement while remaining active was only at 10-30%.
Agri-Cooperative and Agribusiness Income: Eight (8) out of 12 AgriCooperatives and AgriBusinesses have reported a decline of as much as PHP 19,226,468.58 or 12.53% in income. On the other hand, the remaining five (5) AgriCooperatives and AgriBusinesses have seen an increase in income, even surpassing their pre-pandemic levels, at a total of PHP 24,965,000 or 16.27%. Lifting of government restrictions to mobility and travel that ushered in business expansion, activation of inactive cooperative members, settlement of delinquent loans, resiliency of members in coping with the new normal were cited as the major contributory factors for the income increase.
Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) Income: MFIs recorded a combined revenue gain of PHP 35,000,000 or 9.05%. One (1) MFI noted a remarkable 4% Portfolio at risk (PAR) and 10% restructured loans which is significantly below the usual threshold, indicating its effectiveness in managing their portfolio in spite of the pandemic.
Increases are expected in: (1) demand for products, (2) Active customers and Revenue, (3) Cash flow, (4) Operations cost, and (5) staffing; as voted by average of 12 respondents
On the other hand, organizations are anticipating decreases in: (1) non-performing loans, (2) maturing debts, and (3) loan disbursement, loan repayment, capital/savings withdrawals from members; as voted by average of 3 respondents with financial services.
No significant changes are foreseen in movement in (1) regulatory/policy implications, (2) workforce, (3) withdrawals – for MFIs; as voted by average of 4 respondents.
The continuous easing of alert levels in most areas of the country projects a two-fold scenario, according to a number of host organizations: on the one hand, lesser restrictions might result in business growth, expansion of membership, settlement of delinquent loans; on the other, the looming threat of a surge in Covid-19 cases still remains.
Other common adverse effects of the pandemic to business operations were addressed through digitalization of operations, enabling remote work, and reduction of operational cost. Inclusive solutions were also implemented to lessen the burden of stakeholders such as provision of low interest loans, advance payment of 13th month pay and hazard pay to staff, provision of loans to members, and creation of a mediation committee to help members address non-performing loans.
Business Outlook: While the majority retain a positive outlook on their business performance in the next 1-2 years, half of the respondents identified liquidity/working capital, access to financing, and meeting debt obligations as high-level constraints to their sustainability.
Short-Term Priorities: As for strategic interventions in the next 1-2 years, F2F COCOS organizations are still putting the safety and security of their staff and stakeholders as their top priority, closely followed by securing the continuity of business operations; securing finances and liquidity. Growth and expansion, while important, was still ranked last.
Almost all host organizations (14 out of 15) changed their perspective on resilience which underlined the need for their respective organizations to have an institutionalized Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM), consistency in communication with stakeholders, and investments in human and capital resources.
Since the pandemic started, more than half of the respondents (8) of the organizations said that their organizations have become more prepared to face untoward incidents. In fact, several initiatives are already being undertaken to ensure disaster-proof operations including:
Elevating business operations (i.e. enhancing business model, digitalization of systems, maintaining communication line, improving production and processing facilities, restructuring of loan facility, etc);
Creation contingency plan (DRRM committees, completion of emergency fund, ensure sufficient goods, etc.);
Strengthening network and linkages (with other sectors – government, local AgriCoop/ Agribusiness. Financial institutions, NGOs, academe, etc); and
Lifelong learning through participating in capacity building interventions in relation to resilience.
F2F COCOS Support System
In turn, all F2F COCOS Organizations recognize how Grameen and the F2F COCOS volunteer program helped their respective organizations move forward towards resiliency through the provision of remote, paired, or in-person professional and technical expertise on various areas such as:
Building the value chain (production, processing, marketing, sales)
Establishing their respective research and development (market research, food safety)