by Mary Mercy Munene
I am the Nairobi-based Enterprise and Cooperative Development Specialist and Gender Advisor at Land O’Lakes International Development.
Last month, I was privileged to speak at the International Co-operative Alliance Global Conference in Cape Town, and I look forward to continuing the conversation about how individuals and associations can increase profits by forming businesses that intrinsically focus on meeting the needs of their members.
Throughout the 118-year history of the ICA, this was the first time it held its General Assembly in Africa. What an amazingly large gathering of young and old profound speakers, scholars, researchers, legislators, dedicated co-operators, government officials, development partners, and friends of the co-operative movement!
The African continent is rich in resources and ripe for co-operative development. At the conference, the panel of African Ministers affirmed that co-operatives foster democracy and participation, while discouraging the syndrome of donor dependency. In my presentation, “Strengthening Co-operatives to Promote Trade and Market Access,” I reminded the audience that Land O’Lakes is the second largest co-operative in the U.S., strengthening the entire dairy value chain – from production to marketing. As an example, I explained how we increased the incomes of over 300,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya through the sale of quality milk from 135 small co-operatives to larger firms or co-operatives.
At the ICA event, I was inspired by and echo Zimbabwe Minister of Agriculture and Trade Mrs. Sithembiso Nyoni’s call to further embrace co-operatives as a means to accelerate development and reduce conflict in the world. Given my work in gender, I was particularly pleased to hear her proclaim that women can transform the world if provided opportunities and resources. Land O’Lakes International Development recently developed a toolkit that provides guidelines and tips enabling any international development organization to integrate gender into its programming and proposal development. I invite you to download it by clicking here.
If you are interested in the global impact of issues in your community, I highly recommend attending, speaking, and voting at international summits about co-operatives. Even more importantly, we must keep the momentum going year-round. Together we can tackle new market challenges and develop and disseminate tools to make our businesses more profitable.