Staying the course in times of a global pandemic

Benoit André, executive director of the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada, writes about the impact Covid-19 is having in the low and middle income countries

The current level of uncertainty and the policy responses that have been put in place to address the impact of Covid-19 in Canada, and around the world, are unprecedented. This new reality is redefining our daily lives, rewriting our economic interactions and reshaping our social constructs.

Yet now, more than ever, we need to reaffirm our commitment to the values that bind us together as a co-operative community and respond with a sense of solidarity and vision to a truly global challenge.

United Nations secretary general Antonio Gutteres noted in a recent piece that “this is the moment to step up for the vulnerable”. The economic menace brought by this pandemic is disproportionately affecting people in the less economically developed countries, with women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities particularly at risk of poverty. Millions of co-operators in the in low and middle income countries are facing the prospect of losing their livelihoods as a result of reduced economic activity, while the weak performance of health and public support systems creates endemic vulnerabilities for those most in need. Some forecasts are revealing a dark reality – coronavirus could double the number of people going hungry.

Canada’s co-operative community should play its vital part in supporting better economic opportunities for co-operators in low income countries at the twilight of this pandemic. There’s an unprecedented need for building greater resilience and stronger co-operative businesses that can withstand future shocks.

The strength of Canada’s economy and trade resides in the economic stability enjoyed by people in many low income countries. The strength of our communities derives its energies from a sense of mutual support that extends beyond our borders. The strength of Canada’s co-operative sector has created economic opportunities for millions of people across continents, through generous donations and the technical expertise of Canadian co-operators. We need to stay the course and continue to do our fair share in these times of crisis.

CDFC is working to develop the credit union system in Sierra Leone

At the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada, we are entering our third week of home-based work. While we work from home, we continue to reach the homes of thousands of people around the world:

  • Our field teams in Ethiopia and Ghana are continuing to operate virtually to support the implementation of the 4R Solution Project – a transformational partnership with Fertilizer Canada – that aims to advance better economic opportunities for smallholder farmers through improved use of fertiliser, crop and soil management practices. This project is boosting farmer revenues and helping the environment by promoting climate-smart agriculture;
  • Despite the introduction of lockdowns and restrictive measures in Peru, Mongolia and Indonesia, we continue to provide support to the communities that we serve. Our Canadian volunteers have safely returned home, but continue to offer technical expertise in co-op governance and development, product value-addition and marketing through virtual means;
  • We have had to postpone our annual flagship training  Women’s Mentorship Program (WMP) – but we remain committed to supporting our participants across Africa, Asia and the Americas. We are grateful for the continued support we receive from credit unions, Credit Union Centrals across Canada, and the Canadian Credit Union Association, who consistently demonstrate their engagement and interest in supporting capacity building and technical assistance for credit union women leaders from all over the world. We hope to resume WMP as soon as conditions will allow;
  • On 31 March, we partnered with the International Cooperative Alliance, to spread the word about CDF Canada and our work around the world. The Tuesday Talk series, hosted by ICA, is a global knowledge-sharing platform for co-operators. The video can be accessed here.

We are inspired to see how co-operators are mobilising across continents to address the impact of Covid-19. Vancity, alongside other charities from British Columbia, launched a Community Response Fund to support those most affected by coronavirus. In France, Vivescia, the country’s largest grain co-operative, has set up production of hand sanitiser in response to the pandemic. In the UK, The Co-operative Heritage Trust is creating homeschooling resources for kids and The Co-operation Town – a network of food co-ops – is providing hot meals for those in need in the city of Birmingham. India’s Fertiliser Co-op IFFCO, which reaches over 50 million farmers, is distributing soap, masks, hand sanitisers and vitamin C to rural farmers and labourers. In the Philippines, Reliance Producers Co-operative is manufacturing washable face masks and was commissioned to produce over 500,000 masks.

Co-operators are responding in so many ways and so many places around the world with dedication and generosity. But as we face a mounting global crisis, a truly global response is needed with an equal sense of urgency and solidarity.

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