Declaration highlights positive impact of rural co-ops

In the light of World Food Day, the Dunsany Group has issued a declaration highlighting the positive impact of co-ops on rural development and their key role in...

In the light of World Food Day, the Dunsany Group has issued a declaration highlighting the positive impact of co-ops have on rural development and their key role in feeding a growing population.

The declaration aims to provide an incentive for a decade of co-operative growth in rural communities and feeds into the ICA's Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, which is being discussed at the General Assembly at Co-operatives United in Manchester on October 31.

The Dunsany Declaration, a framework for the development of rural co-operatives internationally, was developed by a range of participants from individual co-operatives, United Nations agencies, international co-operative agencies, national co-operative support organisations and co-operative sector representatives, who together formed the ‘Dunsany Group’.

Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation, which co-ordinated the Dunsany Declaration, explained how the declaration came about: “We wanted to make sure we had a contribution to the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC), that would last behind it.”

Mr Counchman further added that in spite of the tremendous contribution co-ops make to rural development; farmers don't always speak with a single voice. Small co-ops are sometimes isolated from the wider co-operative movement.

In his view, the World Food Day is the perfect opportunity for agricultural co-ops from all over the world to speak together with a single voice. He said: “All of us in the Co-operative Movement can think together rather than think separately.”

He continued: “In an increasingly urbanised world, over three billion people will continue to live and work in rural areas, while the whole of the global population will be reliant on the rural landscape for resources including food and energy and water. Co-operative approaches enable rural people and rural communities to meet the increasingly urgent challenges facing the world, including feeding a growing population while meeting their own everyday needs and improving their own lives.”

Peter Couchman signing the Dunsany Declaration

Peter Couchman said: “World Food Day this year focuses on the role of agricultural co-operatives in feeding the world. Therefore, we feel that this is the right time to launch the Dunsany Declaration to both appreciate the role that agricultural co-operatives have in feeding the world today while also outlining the critical role of rural co-operatives in their many forms, by addressing key issues facing the world.”  

The Plunkett Foundation hope the Declaration, as its contribution, will go beyond the IYC, into a decade of co-operation.

Mr Couchman further argued that power is shifting from west to east and north to south, and that co-ops play a major role in making this happen. “Not only is power shifting, but we should actually see this as positive developments in which co-ops have a role to play. To ask the same think through the positives and ensure that proper support is there, these aren’t threats but positive developments”.

The declaration asks for supportive policies and legislation for co-operatives all over the world, as a key part of international development strategies. The document also emphasised the importance of developing an empowering, rather than a prescriptive co-operative legislation. The declaration also suggested placing rural co-ops at the heart of a major programme of education and advocacy led by co-operative sectors, national and international agencies.

The document also makes reference to co-operative-to-co-operative knowledge transfer, building community roots and spreading awareness of the positive impact of co-ops, particularly amongst youths. According to the declaration, access to technologies for rural co-ops is also essential, and so is financial support for rural co-ops.

The declaration reads: “We see that the better way forward is for rural communities to mobilise and take responsibility to pursue a better way of living through co-operative approaches. The strengths and benefits of the co-operative model need to be demonstrated and explained to rural people who could benefit from co-operative action”.

Referring to the Declaration, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said: “FAO supports the efforts of the Dunsany Group and the vision for rural co-operative development articulated in the Dunsany Declaration. FAO stands ready to work with other stakeholders to advance this important agenda.”

The Dunsany Declaration was launched at an event to celebrate World Food Day at the UK Houses of Parliament for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology. The Plunkett Foundation is holding a World of Rural Co-operation session at the Co-operatives United on 31 of October from 11.30am to present the plan and to encourage wider debate on the Dunsany Declaration for rural co-operative development.

The Dunsany Group refers to the following people who attended the World of Rural Co-operation Roundtable Event and signed the Dunsany Declaration in their personal capacity. The group comprised of the following:

Peter Couchman, Plunkett Foundation
Pauline Green, International Co-operative Alliance
David Button, Co-operatives UK
Eve Crowley, Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations
Fayyad Fayyad, Olive Oil Co-operative Union, Palestine
Michael Ward, Centre for Co-operative Studies, UCC
James Graham, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society
Colette Lebel, La Co-op fédérée, Quebec
Martin Lowery, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, USA
David Cameron, Community Land Scotland
Seamus O’Donohue, Irish Co-operative Organisation Society
Simel Esim, International Labour Office
James J Kennelly, Skidmore College, USA
Hans van Es, Dutch Produce Association / COGECA
Ms. Min Su Kim, NACF/ ICAO
Mike Perry, Plunkett Foundation
Harriet English, Plunkett Foundation

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