The National Onion Growers' Cooperative Marketing Association (NOGROCOMA)
History & Drivers
NOGROCOMA was founded in 1954 with a simple goal: That the country with some of the best onion farmers in the world should not be importing onions from India, Australia, and Japan. After failing to create a viable investor-owned corporation, Congressman Jesus Ilagan formed a cooperative, with the mission of improving the standard of living for farmers in the region and developing a stronger domestic market.
A cooperative was a natural choice. The early 1950s was a time when the cooperative movement was gaining strength in the Philippines. The structure also was useful for obtaining grants and technical assistance from the government and international sources—and a smart way for low-income farmers to realize greater economies of scale. Dulce still refers to NOGROCOMA as a “family cooperative” because family members play such a large role in its strategic planning and occupy several board positions.
A year after the cooperative was formed, it was boosted by the passage of Republic Act 1296, which banned the importation of onions, garlic, and potatoes (except for seedlings). Protectionism, particularly of agricultural industries, was widespread in those days. “Because of RA 1296,” says Dulce, “it was lucrative for our farmers to focus on the local market.”
During its first decade, NOGROCOMA’s domestic sales grew steadily. The cooperative also was able to steadily improve levels of service to its members, whose standard of living improved considerably. By 1964, however, the Philippines—with NOGROCOMA as an industry leader—had saturated domestic demand. Dulce notes that the motto of NOGROCOMA over the next decade became “inward looking in productivity, outward looking in marketing.” It began exporting to Japan and Singapore. A partnership with Japan’s Marubeni Company was especially lucrative, and the cooperative continued selling to Japan until 2000. For a time, the United States was also a modest trading partner.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the dominant challenge was environmental decline. The lands of NOGROCOMA farmers became acidic due to overharvesting, and expensive fertilizers and pesticides were increasingly needed. Labor costs were also rising.
The most promising solution to all these problems, NOGROCOMA decided, was IPM, which provided a technique for building up soil nutrients without expensive chemicals. NOGROCOMA started to convert its members to IPM methods in 1995, cutting production costs by half. By applying lime, NOGROCOMA was able to diminish the acidity of members’ soils and eliminate two-thirds of the fertilizer applications. Dulce says that “IPM became the key to competitiveness, which is why IPM is still being used and is still appropriate.” The cooperative continues to develop new IPM techniques on four separate plots through “action-research” led by the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
Today the most significant challenge to NOGROCOMA is free trade. In 1994, the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization and lifted its ban on onion importation. Cheap imports flooded the country, particularly from China. Meanwhile, more Filipino farmers outside the cooperative entered the marketplace. NOGROCOMA’s response has been to start importing outside onions itself. According to Dulce, “Globalization is supposed to help consumers, but because of the cost of credit and production inputs, the price of onions in the Philippines is always higher than in other countries. In order to ensure the future, we have to go with the tide and partake in importations to stabilize prices.” NOGROCOMA is also developing other products for export, such as coconut soap and coconut oil.