Evaluating the Capacity of a Coconut Cooperative for Organic Certification

Posted on 09/30/2022

During this volunteer assignment, I worked with the host Quezon Federation and Union of Cooperatives (QFUC). QFUC is made up of 128 cooperatives and about half of the membership are smallholder coconut farmers. They are interested in obtaining organic certification in order to leverage price premiums and to enter the international marketplace. QFUC had previously looked into organic certification with the help of a consultant, who provided some guidance on the certification process. However, they wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the requirements.

This was my third F2F volunteer assignment through Grameen Foundation and my third remote assignment, so many elements felt familiar. Working with Judith and Michael from Grameen Foundation, the Zoom meetings, and working with coconut farmers were the same. But this assignment also provided many new experiences as well. For the first time, I worked with a local co-volunteer based in the Philippines, Glemechille (Glem) Maestro. Working with Glem was a great experience, as she had insights to resources for organic farming that I would not have known about. Together with the host organization, my fellow co-volunteer, and Grameen Foundation, we organized several different trainings over Zoom calls. Glem also organized an in-person training.

As someone who has worked in the world of organic certification for many years, I found this project to be interesting and challenging. One challenge was presenting all of the different facets of the certification process in a concise yet comprehensive way. In one training session, we covered the philosophy of organic farming. We discussed things such as the environment and benefits to the soil and plant health. In another training session, we discussed how to choose a certifier and what kinds of documents are required as part of the recordkeeping requirements. And finally, there is the additional challenge for grower groups such as the coconut farming cooperative because they need to develop an internal control system that shows that the entire cooperative is being managed in the same way. This is required if they want to get certified as a group.

I was able to grow professionally as I learned more about grower cooperatives, as well as organic farming in the Philippines. Organic certification can be daunting more many, and especially so for a large group like QFUC. At the end of my assignment, I reflected on the amount of effort that organic farmers need to put into learning about the organic standards and the paperwork that is required for certification. And although it is more work, many organic farmers feel passionately about the environmental benefits and know that they can get higher premiums for their products. I feel confident that QFUC has more knowledge and resources available to them after this assignment. I wish them the best on their journey to organic certification.

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