Yves Le Morvan, an influential figure in France's agricultural and agri-food industry, has a graduate degree (DEA) in Community Law and is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Coop de France, the unified representative of agricultural cooperatives that plays a key role in France's agricultural, agri-food and agri-industrial economy.
We asked him to talk about the reasons why the cooperative model has traditionally been the best option for this industry, and if these reasons are still the same today. He also explained the main issues and challenges facing cooperative members in this industry.
The agricultural and agri-food sector is the world's largest cooperative sector. Can you explain the main reasons why the cooperative model has historically been the best option for this sector? Are the reasons any different now?
Historically, the cooperative movement has been very active in the agriculture and agri-food sectors because it addresses the fundamental issue of pooling supplies from multiple farms against the increasingly concentrated and powerful industrial buyers, wholesalers and distributors. Aside from this basic reason, the cooperative movement has been able to expand because it also helped its members improve their skills, develop their technical expertise, and become better trained. The cooperative model has essentially been a powerful catalyst for modernization, organization, acquisition of value while leaving the decision-making in the hands of the farmers.
In today's more open and volatile economic conditions, famers are more productive, but often fewer in numbers. That said, the cooperative model still has the same power in its economic structure.
Where do Coop de France members (agricultural, agri-food, and agri-industrial cooperatives) stand in France compared to other organizations from the same sector?
The agricultural cooperative movement is very powerful in France. It is often the leader in many areas of the economy (grains, oilseeds and oilseed production, animal nutrition, animal husbandry, sugar) almost on-par with private family-owned businesses in other major sectors (wine and dairy) and has a minority share of the market in a number of animal and produce sectors. In fact, the 2,900 agricultural cooperatives represent a solid segment of France's agricultural economy, but this isn't widely known or recognized. They are very active in non-food opportunities and are responsible, directly or along with their subsidiaries, for 40% of the country's agri-food business activity, for a total of 83 billion Euros in sales.
The cooperative business model is vibrant and on the rise, even if it faces a number of challenges.
What are your members' primary challenges? And what are the main issues they will have to face to ensure their future is more sustainable?
There are three main issues facing cooperatives: economic growth, governance, and sustainable development.
Economic growth, volatile prices, stiff competition, and the anticipated CAP reform are forcing cooperatives to work towards better organization, cooperation with other cooperatives, innovation that adds value, and globalization. In short, they need to take a proactive approach in markets that show promise.
In terms of governance, cooperative leaders need to improve in the areas of knowledge, skills, analytical abilities, and supervision of directors, as well as to make the most of participatory democracy and the long-term commitment of co-operators within their own business.
And finally, cooperatives need to focus their attention on sustainable development in general by protecting resources or making the best use of them, developing greater visibility in the social fabric and local society, and by increasing their economic competitiveness. The cooperative model lends itself well to this holistic business vision.
At the end of the International Summit of Cooperatives, participants will be asked to adopt a joint declaration. What is the one essential component that you think should be included?
Cooperation between cooperatives, nationally and internationally, in terms of the economy or in more general terms, must be an objective in the quest for the cooperative ideal. This is an attainable ideal.
Mr. Le Morvan will be speaking at the 2012 International Summit of Cooperatives on Wednesday, October 15, at 3:15 p.m., as part of the Simultaneous Forum: Social and Environmental Responsibility in the Community.