Experts see agricultural co-ops as key to feeding the world

On World Food Day 2012, important figures within the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have spoken of the improvements made in recent years and the main...

On World Food Day 2012, experts within the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have spoken of the improvements made in recent years and the main challenges small farmers co-ops continue to face.

The theme of this year's 'World Food Day is Agricultural Co-ops: Key to Feeding the World' and various FAO officials have spoken about how co-ops can help to stamp out world hunger. 

Nora Ourabah Haddad from the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment division of the FAO has reaffirmed FAO’s commitment to agricultural co-ops. According to Ms Ourabah Haddad, partnerships between the FAO and agricultural co-operatives play a key role in the organisation’s long-term strategies.

She said there are many factors that enable the development of co-ops, such as adequate legislation, a favourable economic context and appropriate fiscal policies. Furthermore, Ms Ourabah Haddad argued; it is essential to develop certain consulting mechanisms so that co-ops can make their intentions clear to the government.

“The FAO can facilitate all these processes,” said Nora Ourabah Haddad. She also said co-ops can generate growth across the world and gave the example of Egypt, where four million farmers live from agricultural revenues.

Ms Ourabah Haddad added: “In countries where co-operatives are stronger, there has been a stronger resilience to the financial crisis because they operate according to their principles of democracy and equality. They have a dual dimension-economic and social”.

She further added that the FAO would continue to sustain co-operative development at national and international level.

Siobhan Kelly, Agribusiness Economist for Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division of FAO, said co-ops help farmers to gain a better access to the market. He talked about Cameroon, where the FAO has been working with farmer organisations to strengthen their capacity to interact with agro-businesses, at the same time as working with buyers to understand what the risks are, and what their needs are, in order to improve how they produce. According to Ms Kelly, successful development programmes involving co-ops have been implemented across Africa, the Pacific region and the Caribbean.

Helga Josupeit, Senior Fishery Officer, Policy and Planning Service, Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of FAO said “fisheries is quite a particular sector so to group them in co-ops is not easy, even if we have some good examples in Mexico, Brazil and Kenya.”

She also emphasised the need for better co-ordination with local governments.

“In some countries it is difficult to register as co-ops. They have to pay.” She gave the example of women clam collectors in Tunisia who wanted to organise in co-ops, yet, even with the help of FAO, it took them two years to organise.

She continued: “Banks are not very happy with fishermen. They are very mobile, do not own land, sometimes do not own their boats, but with co-ops it is easier because they are a legal entity, banks accept them more easily."

Daniela Kalikoski, from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of FAO said that many stakeholders need to be involved in the process of developing sustainable agricultural co-ops.

“Donors have a strong role to play in terms of supporting and financing this kind of projects. Government agencies, legislation required need to secure an environment that can foster these activities,” she said.

Co-operatives have a very important role in agricultural development, thinks Emilio Hernández, Agricultural Finance Officer at FAO. He also said the World Food Day is a great opportunity for co-ops, governmental bodies and all agencies involved in agricultural development to exchange information and experiences and strengthen producers co-operatives and mutuals.

The FAO official added the co-operative model has proven to be successful not only in the developing world, but also in developed countries. However, he argued the model might need to be implemented differently, according to each individual state. A core element in determining the development of agricultural co-ops is the political support received from the government. “The more awareness we generate among governments the better it will be. We need more effective ways of sustaining co-ops,” he said.

Agricultural cooperatives are the focus of World Food Day 2012. The theme has been chosen to highlight the role of co-operatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger.

Audio interviews with FAO experts are available online on FAO's website.

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