A delegation of leaders from NCBA CLUSA recently spent three days in the Dominican Republic engaging project partners, leaders from the Dominican cooperative community and elected officials—including an extended policy conversation with Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader. The trip also included site visits to farms participating in NCBA CLUSA’s development work in the country.
The objectives of the trip included:
- Exercising the board’s governance and oversight responsibilities by learning about how NCBA CLUSA partners with funders, government officials and local actors to help communities capture economic opportunity.
- Spending time with and supporting leaders from both the Dominican Republic cooperative sector and government officials who are seeking to advance the policy environment for cooperatives.
- Deepen the understanding of how the U.S. could more effectively use the cooperative business model by learning from cooperators in a different context.
Participants included Carla Decker, chair of NCBA CLUSA’s Board of Directors and CEO of SkyPoint Federal Credit Union, and Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. Decker and O’Brien were joined by five other board directors: Sylandi Brown, Communications Manager of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council; Juan Fernandez, president and CEO of the Credit Union Association of New Mexico; Christina Jennings, Executive Director of Shared Capital Cooperative; David Swanson, attorney at Dorsey & Whitney, LLP; and Deborah Wege, Cooperative Community Advocate at BECU. The delegation also included representatives from NCBA CLUSA member Organic Valley, Jim Wedeberg and Silvia Abel-Caines; representatives from NCBA CLUSA partner GENEX, Marcel Petrutiu and Christa Hoffman; Alex Serrano, Senior Vice President of International Programs at NCBA CLUSA; and Cesáreo Guillermo, Chief of Party for NCBA CLUSA in the Dominican Republic.
On April 19, the delegation spent time with NCBA CLUSA staff and partners in dialogue about two projects that NCBA CLUSA is leading in the Dominican Republic: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded Safe Agriculture/Food Export (SAFE) program, known locally as Progana; and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Resilient Agriculture Activity.
The visits, including a meeting at the U.S. Embassy with officials from USAID and USDA Foreign Agricultural Services, focused on Progana’s work with farmers and cooperatives to improve the Dominican Republic’s food safety culture and open new export markets. Following a 25-year lapse, Progana recently helped the country achieve export equivalency with U.S. food safety standards, paving the way for the Dominican Republic to export beef to U.S. territories. The visits also highlighted NCBA CLUSA’s Resilient Agriculture Activity (RAA), with its focus on climate-smart agriculture practices and local, organic production of agricultural inputs. Both projects focus on increasing the technical expertise of farmers through farmer field schools and increasing markets.
On April 20, the NCBA CLUSA delegation met with senior leaders in the Dominican Republic’s National Assembly (analogous to the U.S. Congress), including Alfredo Pacheco, president of the lower chamber (analogous to the Speaker of the House) and Julito Fulcar, who also serves in the leadership of the National Assembly. Mr. Fulcar is a long-time leader of the cooperative movement including the Dominican Republic’s apex co-op association, Conacoop.
The National Assembly is considering broad based cooperative policy informed by recommendations from an analysis known as CLARITY 2.0 conducted by NCBA CLUSA focused on the cooperative policy ecosystem of the country. Throughout the day, the delegation engaged with Eufrasia Gómez, Executive President of Conacoop, and Franco de los Santos, the President-Administrator of the Institute for Cooperative Development and Credit, which is the national agency charged with cooperative development and research.
At the end of the day, the delegation met with national President Luis Abinader, who showed great knowledge and interest in using co-ops more comprehensively to grow the Dominican economy. He shared a personal story about how his father had helped establish a number of cooperative banks (analogous to credit unions in the U.S.) in the past. The U.S. delegation was able to share the significant scope and breadth of cooperatives in the U.S. and some of the key policies that support the U.S. cooperative system. The meeting concluded with commitments from both U.S. and Dominican representatives to continue dialogue and look for ways to support their respective country’s cooperative communities.
The NCBA CLUSA delegation also participated in a co-op public event on Thursday called, “U.S. Cooperative Sector Experiences and Contributions to the U.S. Economy.” Hosted by the National Institute for Credit and Cooperatives (IDECOOP), the event drew more than 200 participants including key cooperative leaders from the Dominican Republic.
Closing out the visit, the delegation traveled to farms in the Hato Mayor and El Ceibo regions and meet with partners heading up NCBA CLUSA’s work in the country and get a first-hand look at the projects’ interventions. Both Progana and RAA utilize a train-the-trainer approach known as farmer field schools. While on site, the NCBA CLUSA delegation was able to participate in a training on low-cost techniques to increase cattle herd productivity.