Dame Pauline Green holds keynote speech on food security in Tokyo

Keynote speaker at the annual Rabobank Duisenberg Lecture in Tokyo within the World Bank/IMF Forum on Sunday, 14 October, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance,...

Keynote speaker at the annual Rabobank Duisenberg Lecture in Tokyo within the World Bank/IMF Forum on Sunday, 14 October, Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, said that co-operatives could build a sustainable framework around food production.

At the lecture in commemoration of Willem Duisenberg, the first Governor of the European Central Bank, Dame Pauline Green spoke of the contribution of the co-operative movement to the global economy and the role co-ops could play in the reconstruction of a “more sustainable, fairer and better balanced global economy”.

Dame Pauline gave an insight into the 1998 crisis that preceded the launch of the Euro. Both herself, as the leader of the Parliamentary Group of the Party of European Socialists, and Mr Duisenberg had played an instrumental role in the introduction of the Euro in the European Union in 2002.

The ICA President continued by saying that “all serious new initiatives tend to emerge from an intense period of political tension” and referred to the International Year of Co-operatives as having the potential to mark a historical shift in the history of the co-operative movement.

She said “the co-operative opportunity is all the greater”, considering the current state of the global economy, the shift in economic and political power from West to East and North to South and the crucial environmental, food, energy and social turbulence.

In the context of World Food Day, Dame Pauline also spoke of sustainability, as a concept with wider implications for the co-operative movement, such as “the reduction of poverty, the good governance of business, the evolution of local and national structures free from despotism and corruption”.

She explained how the seven principles that categorise the co-operative business model give co-ops an ethical dimension.

The ICA President referred to the co-operative business model as one with a distinct identity, which should take part in the B20, the business group that advice the G20. She explained how the world’s largest 300 co-operative businesses are worth US $1.6 trillion, equivalent to the 10th largest economy in the world, which puts co-ops in the G20.

Dame Pauline said co-ops are not just successful enterprises, but also “a business model that puts people at the centre of their economic decision-making”.

She said: “Co-operative businesses around the world are owned by nearly one billion people. And for nearly 200 years, co-operatives have been creating jobs across the world – currently over 100 million of the world’s citizens are employed within a co-operative.

“In effect co-operatives have taken millions out of poverty with dignity, by helping them to build their own co-operative businesses.”

Dame Pauline Green also addressed the issue of “false co-operatives” or co-operatives without co-operators, very common in Africa.

“The worst possible effect of such constructs is that the results that can be achieved by ‘real’ co-operatives, not just in the context of economic success, but also the range of wider community and individual benefits, are lost, and those folk are less likely to ever consider a co-operative again,” she said.

She further explained how agricultural co-ops help to: maintain higher levels of income, send children to school and provide health insurance. According to her, co-ops can also help to promote democratic principles, spreading democratic principles and enabling citizens to get involved in the decision making process.

Dame Pauline said that co-operation is the way forward for African farming communities, which otherwise run the risk of watching how large multi nationals or even predatory states continue to buy-up agricultural land. She also gave the example of the recent developments in the Chinese economy, with the Government currently placing a strong emphasis on co-ops to ensure entrepreneurial rural evolution. The ICA leader also mentioned the importance of co-operation and exchange between co-operatives.

She said: “We have the agricultural and financial expertise needed to build grass roots networks and supply chain networks that could make a significant starting point for the peaceful and indigenous evolution of not just pockets of African agricultural growth, but whole regions.“

Dame Pauline spoke of the need to start now developing a grass roots agricultural co-operative economy in sub Saharan Africa in order to deal with the key issue of food scarcity by 2050 and allow any benefits of increasing trade and prosperity in Africa to be enjoyed by the African people rather than by the share holders of remote multinational businesses or predator states.

According to Dame Pauline Green, the question is not whether co-ops can contribute to building a better world, but rather whether the world has the political will to enable the agenda, the infrastructure and the resources of the co-operative movement.

Rabobank also issued an in-depth study entitled “Co-operative small farmers in developing countries: key to successfully solve the world food problem” to coincide with the speech. The study argues small farmers must be connected to markets and integrated in value chains and Collaborating in cooperatives will increase smallholders’ economic power. 

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