FAO calling on the support of co-operatives

With this year’s theme of World Food Day being “Agricultural Co-operatives, key to feeding the world,” the FAO has launched an appeal calling on the support of co-operatives.

With this year’s theme of World Food Day being “Agricultural Co-operatives, key to feeding the world,” the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN has launched an appeal calling on the support of co-operatives.  

In order to raise awareness of the great contribution the co-operative enterprise model has, particularly in agriculture, the FAO has released a leaflet and a video showing how co-operatives make a difference in rural areas. The FAO explains not only how co-operatives work, but also how they empower small farmers, boosting local economies, spreading democratic principles and addressing inequality.

At a time when of the 5.5 billion people in the developing world, 3 billion live in rural areas, agricultural co-ops play a central role in food security and poverty reduction.

The document reveals how one of the necessary steps to provide much of the extra food needed to feed the nine billion people by 2050, is supporting and investing in food co-operatives. The leaflet describes how small producers in developing countries face numerous difficulties, often being isolated and unable to access the market.

The need for finance, the absence of a proper infrastructure and lack of transport are amongst the most pressing problems for them. However, small farmers acting collectively can overcome these difficulties and benefit from the market’s opportunities.

Whilst being actively involved in the decision making process, small farmers also get the chance to speak with a single voice, increasing their influence in policy making. Apart from highlighting the positive role co-ops play in food security, the document also suggests ways of strengthening their capacities and boosting their impact.  

The leaflet reads: “Agricultural and food co-operatives are already a major tool against poverty and hunger, but they could do much more. It is time to strengthen these organisations and facilitate their expansion while creating a favourable business, legal, policy and social climate in which they can thrive.”

The FAO suggests two measures to strengthen co-ops. The first one is making sure they are managed properly by providing training for members, whilst taking into account the distinctive nature of co-ops. Furthermore, without the support of national governments, development agencies, NGOs, intergovernmental agencies and academics, co-ops remain limited in both their scale and scope. The document argues a favourable environment is essential in enabling the development of co-operatives.

Thus the second step in boosting co-ops’ development is, according to the FAO, establishing a new social contract between co-ops, governments and NGOs, making sure governments provide transparent laws and regulations, supporting innovating co-operative projects.

The document reads: “World Food Day and the International Year of Cooperatives are bringing new understanding and attention to cooperatives. Now let’s not let the fire go out.”

UN Special Ambassadors for Cooperatives, Elisabeth Atangana and Roberto Rodrigues, also highlighted the importance of the co-operative movement.

“One billion people are members of co-operatives. Imagine if each one has 3 dependents-family that means 4 billion people living with the co-operative movement in the world,” said Mr Rodrigues.

He continued by saying ensure progress at both economic and social level, becoming  “a bridge from the common marker to happiness of people”.

Elisabeth Atangana also explained why the FAO has been working on developing a plan to promote the co-operative model in agriculture. According to Ms Atangana, co-ops are key to "revitalising nations". She launched an appeal to producers from all over the world, young peope and decision makers, asking them "to support co-ops as a means of reducing poverty having 2035 in the horizon".

In 2012 World Food Day was celebrated in moe than 150 states. Interest in co-operatives and rural organisations is also reflected in the decision of the UN General Assembly to designate 2012 “International Year of Cooperatives.”

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