WITH a critical mass of some 500,000 agricultural cooperatives from the 10 Asean countries – yes, about 500,000 is the total number of the cooperatives of farmers, fisherfolk, women and of the indigenous people based on the figures given by the delegates representing their respective countries when we met in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012 during the meeting of the Asean Center for the Development of Agricultural Cooperatives (Acedac).

The delegates to the 7th Asian Cooperatives Business Forum have come together January 16 to 18 for a 3-day convergence in Manila to bring to the fore the voice, the issues and concerns, the business plan and the advocacies of their hundreds of millions of members in the spirit of cooperation and oneness.

The theme, “Cooperatives, being members-owned, value-based and sustainable, are advancing prosperity for all,” has put in clear categorical term the very essence of cooperativism and why we have to propel cooperative business to greater heights.

Being members-owned, the problem of gross inequities will be addressed as the members are the main stakeholders as they own and manage their own enterprise. They are the ones to control, to decide and to benefit, thus, democratizing wealth and power.

Being value-based, the cooperatives give high adherence to time-honored and universally-accepted cooperative principles values and practices of participation, democracy, equality, service, industry, cooperation, honesty, transparency, accountability and most importantly, concern for the environment and for the communities. Money is used to enhance life and the well-being of the people and not to make more money.

The cooperatives are considered the builders of sustainability and by 2020, they will be the acknowledged leaders in social, economic and ecological sustainability. This means that food security, inclusive growth and ecological integrity will be the priorities rather than business and profit – which is what prosperity for all is all about!

It is just amazing that the forum will begin with the first salvo by opening-up Exhibits and Asian Coffee Corner showcasing the products of the cooperatives from different Asean countries which can be the subject of intra-trading between and among the Asean countries.

The Exhibits carries with it a strong message that buying is like casting a vote, choosing from different economic alternatives, cooperatives versus non-cooperatives; essentials versus non-essentials, organic versus non-organic.

When you buy the products of the cooperatives, you are buying what are essentials, what are healthy and organic and at the same time support the livelihood of the poor and the vulnerable to create employment and draw those in the margins into the mainstream of development processes.

It is just amazing that in the exhibits of products, we are pleased to show a product on coffee that has been adjudged in Seattle USA last year as the best coffee in the world produced by a cooperative of the Indigenous People in Dalwangan and Maramag, Bukidnon.

There is no doubt, this International Forum will not only be a learning venue with each country presenting the amazing stories of the agricultural cooperatives but will also include a regional sharing of information highlighting innovations of the cooperatives in facing the challenges brought about by a globalized set-up.

There will also be field tours to successful nearby cooperatives whose innovations and outstanding performance have become models in the global economy.

In this forum, we will see the building and launching of partnership among cooperatives including the signing of memorandum of agreements.

All told, the Forum is advancing what the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) has declared, that cooperatives are the people’s preferred development model and the fastest growing enterprise that will replace the present dominant paradigm.

The paradigm shift from neo-liberal capitalism to cooperativism is already long overdue. The unsustainability in ecology must now be rectified because, in the absence of a major change, the unsustainable patter of resource use will cause the collapse of the world system in less than a hundred years. The unsustainability in the economy, where individualized aggrandizement and accumulation of wealth is the order of the day, must now be debunked to give way to the collective efforts towards inclusive growth and prosperity for all through cooperativism.

Dr. Albert Einstein once told us that we cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that has given rise to the problem, thus, from a consumerist and materialist thinking, there must be a shift to regenerative mindset, from having more to being more.

Thank you so much. God bless!