How much are commitment, connection, and trust worth? For one farmers’ cooperative in the Philippines, they were invaluable—and the key to long-term transformation.
There is a strong and growing consensus that the philanthropy and aid sectors should be focusing more on sharing and shifting power to communities while also prioritizing equity, accountability, and sustainability. But the question is how?
Currently, development programs and funds are largely in the hands of major (mostly Western) agencies, creating barriers to funding local and marginalized community organizations, perpetuating inequity, and reinforcing the power of institutional donors over the recipients of aid. Community-led initiatives put communities at the heart of efforts to support their resilience. At its core, community led-ness is about enabling communities to solve problems that are important to them.
With this context in mind, the Center for Disaster Preparedness Philippines (CDP) co-designed and led the Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund, with strategic support from a consortium of global partners, including GlobalGiving. As part of the USAID-funded Assets, Agency & Trust initiative, this model demonstrates a locally led, innovative partnership aiming to reach marginalized communities often overlooked or unable to access funding. It highlights community assets and ownership akin to Community Philanthropy and was fully managed and implemented by CDP.
Through CDP’s Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund, we’ve seen how equitable partnerships can be transformative and shift power back to communities and local actors by recognizing and building on local assets, respecting the agency of individuals and communities, and fostering mutual trust.
Communities have incredible assets and resources that should not only be recognized but highly valued—equal to how we value external financial resources. In the context of the Philippines, the Indigenous cultural practice of “bayanihan,” or taking part in community work and action, serves as the foundation of every community-based organization. The willingness to volunteer, contribute, and take part is what sustains and fuels most of these grassroots organizations toward their mission, despite the lack of financial resources. The knowledge and familiarity of the local context make community leaders advocates and experts trusted by their members.
Their commitment to service is not contingent on project end dates, artificial timeframes for a crisis or disaster, or whether the problem is trendy because they are part of a community facing multi-faceted, complex, and non-linear challenges.
These assets—long-term commitment to communities and relationships, trust, access to communities, expertise in their context, and a strong cultural practice of bayanihan—all highlight why community-led action is often more effective.
Using community strength to secure support
The Kilometer 7 Farmers-Producers Cooperative (KFPC) is an example of how one community leveraged its assets to take its work even further. KFPC was formed in 1995 as a result of the closure of the Nasipit Lumber Company in Butuan City. Hundreds of workers were displaced. To cope with unemployment, some displaced workers occupied the abandoned logging area and started planting root crops and vegetables for household consumption. Soon, the group started to meet informally to discuss farming challenges, share techniques, and even brainstorm on community issues, such as the absence of an adequate road to deliver their products to the market. The group successfully lobbied for the construction of their farm-to-market road.
In 2011, the group was formally registered under the Cooperative Development Authority and has been supporting its members, along with its long-term partner, Christ the King Parish. The cooperative once again demonstrated solidarity and bayanihan spirit after responding to Typhoon Odette (Typhoon Rai), which devastated the region in 2013. The cooperative members shared and donated their agricultural products like root crops and rice to families affected by the typhoon. Since then, KFPC has been dedicated to organizing cluster farms to increase productivity and share good agricultural practices among members.
“Despite the challenges that we are continuously facing, the local assets of the community like our fertile land, our Indigenous farming knowledge and practices, the cooperation among members, and our resolve to work as one community, propels us towards our goal of supporting our families and the community.” — Ka Nilo Calipayan, KFPC Manager
To advance its work of supporting community members, KFPC sought support from the Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund.
The fund accepted proposals in any Filipino dialect or in video format (instead of written) to be more community led, inclusive, and accessible in the application process. KFPC’s proposal was one of two proposals written in the Visayan (non-Tagalog) dialect and one of 32 submissions from Mindanao.
Given their experience working with cluster farms, the members wanted to expand that work with a focus on sustainability. For its proposal, KFPC was awarded US$17,960 (PHP$1 million) under a partnership agreement aimed at building the capacity of 50 small farmers from six barangays (villages) in Butuan City on good agricultural practices, managing an agri-business enterprise, and linking with various government agencies for additional support and resources.
Building on assets for sustainability
The cooperative’s proven ability to organize small farmers and increase the productivity of the 31-hectare farmland planted with different cash crops enabled it to access additional support from the Department of Agriculture. That included agricultural inputs and farm machines, which the cooperative distributed to its members. Since receiving support from the community solidarity fund, KFPC, with the support of Christ the King Parish, raised and mobilized more than US$178,000 (PHP$10 million) worth of assistance for a swine project, US$27,000 (PHP$1.5 million) for farm inputs like seeds, fertilizer, and other machinery, and another US$18,000 (PHP$1 million) for a solar-powered water system from the Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A new chapter for collaboration
These partnerships and support came after the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement with KFPC, small farmers, Christ the King Parish, the Diocesan Social Action Center, and the Regional Agricultural Fisheries Council of the Department of Agriculture. This is a first of its kind for the Philippines’ Caraga region, as it involved three dioceses of Butuan, Tandag, and Surigao.
Under the agreement, KFPC and Christ the King Parish committed to helping the small farmers organize themselves and initiate training on communal farming and backyard gardening. The Social Action of the Diocese of Butuan will help in developing and finding a market for the produce, beyond the Taboan and Sunday Bagsakan sa Parokya, or Sunday farmer’s market. And the Regional Agricultural Fisheries Council is committed to supporting the farmers’ priority projects, particularly sustainable agriculture and food security initiatives.
In addition to the agricultural projects, KFPC has partnered with local internet providers and USAID to deploy satellite terminals in three KFPC communities in Butuan City. This will allow community members to participate in an online platform to sell their products at better prices.
Community inputs, widespread impact
This enabling environment allowed the farmers’ cooperative to extend its work beyond the confine of its communities, multiplying the impact:
- In less than a year, the cooperative managed to organize an additional 13 farmer organizations with more than 200 new members. Six of these have been registered under the Department of Labor and Employment and have already accessed various government services and support.
- The cooperative conducted its first harvest festival last year, giving farmers a unique space to share their experiences and donate unsold vegetables to the church, which then distributed them to poor families in the city.
- In January, the first Taboan sa Parokya, or farmers’ market, was held for one day. The farmers sold nearly US$300 (PHP$15,000) worth of farm produce, which flowed back as income for the cooperative.
- KFPC and Christ the King Parish also facilitated a series of dialogues with area tribes aimed at a possible partnership to strengthen environmental protection and address the tribes’ priority issues.
By valuing community assets, elevating community strengths, and committing to collaboration, KFPC and its partners continue to make long-term impacts and demonstrate the value of community-led change.
Read more community stories and learnings from the Assets, Agency & Trust Program.
Featured Photo: Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund by Center for Disaster Preparedness Philippines (CDP)
Note: The work delivered through Assets, Agency & Trust Program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.