Agricultural co-operatives join campaign to help small farms feed the world

In 2014 agricultural co-operatives from across the world are supporting the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). Launched at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York on 22...

In 2014 agricultural co-operatives from across the world are supporting the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).

Launched at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York on 22 November, the IYFF is a worldwide campaign for the sustainable development of family farming.

With the IYFF, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) aims to increase knowledge, communication and public awareness of family farming, and to build on the results of previous international years, particularly the International Year of Cooperatives 2012.

Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, believes the IYFF is a strong complement to the IYC. She says that secondary co-operatives were often owned by family farmers, and this could help to ensure wealth was returned to farmers and not to large multinational businesses.

“Co-operatives are, of course, unique in that they ensure that the wealth generated from the secondary business is kept in the hands of its farmer members,” she adds.

“It is this role that has been the key element in the growth of agricultural co-operatives around the world, and we have still more to do on this front, particularly in Africa where our relationship with the FAO will be critical to this work.”

The FAO, which touched on family farming in its events at the ICA’s General Assembly in Cape Town, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICA to foster rural development and help feed sub-Saharan Africa.

Family farms are not just important to Africa; the world is fed by more than 500 million family farms – more than 80% of the world’s farms.

Across the European Union, more than 95% of farm holdings are family farms. The European Commission followed up the launch of the IYFF on 29 November with a conference on family farming.

Representatives of Copa-Cogeca, the voice of European farmers and their co-ops, highlighted the importance of agricultural co-operatives in helping family farmers to better manage the extreme market volatility and get better prices for their products.

Christian Pèes, the president of Cogeca (General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union), told the conference that farmers and co-ops need new strategies and products to secure better market returns for their members.

Mr Pèes, a family farmer and member of Coop de France, added that it was important to put in place the right conditions for the establishment of producer organisations.

The agricultural sector provides jobs for more than 25 million people, with family farms a key driver for growth and jobs in EU rural areas.

Andrew Rennie, a member of Scottish Pig Producers, said family farmers need access to training and infrastructure, including the internet.

He says that joining a co-op gives farmers stability and security in what can be a very volatile market.

This matters because family farming and co-ops are vital to food security.

James Graham, chief executive of Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, comments: “Family-based farming provides the most resilient and sustainable system for food production and environment management, as well as contributing massively to the social, economic and knowledge capital of rural communities.

“And, most importantly, co-ops enable family farmers to preserve their independence and grow in a food industry in which multi-national corporations strive to dominate, often to the detriment of family farmers.”

He adds: “The goal of 2014 IYFF, to reposition family farming at the centre of agricultural, environmental and social policies in national agendas, conveys an ambition that accords with the beliefs, values and interests of all our agricultural co-ops.”

One of the objectives of the IYFF is to promote case studies of family farms. To mark the launch of the year, the World Rural Forum (WRF) and the Regional Program Fida Mercosur published a review, Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth.

It shows how, in Ivory Coast, secondary co-operatives are helping to strengthen family farmers.

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Farmers with a bean crop in Hangachafa Village, southern Ethiopia | Image ©FAO/IFAD/WFP/Petterik Wiggers.

Kadidja Koné, director of the African Institute for Economic and Social Development (INADES) in Ivory Coast, has supported the start-up of many co-ops, involved in processing and marketing of several crops. This helps to develop training programmes to give farmers new skills.

Co-ops in the northern region of the country have joined efforts to create a regional label, enabling them to sell nuts at a higher price than the country’s average.

By joining co-ops, farmers have been able to better market their products, adopting mobile phone technology to get updates of market prices. “Farmers are now informed actors, with greater control and bargaining power over retailers,” says Ms Koné, adding that this has had knock-on benefits for surrounding communities.

Similarly, in Brazil, agricultural co-operatives are helping to strengthen farmers, 60% of whom are members of co-operatives. The government is encouraging family farmers to strengthen production strategies by joining co-operatives and has developed policies that facilitate access to credit, institutional markets and technical assistance.

The IYF has so far gained the support of over 260 civil society and farmers’ organisations from across 60 states. The US’s National Co-operative Business Association (NCBA) and its international wing, the Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA), is also backing the campaign.

Vice-president Alan Knapp says: “As a leader in food security through our international development work for nearly 60 years, NCBA CLUSA shares the belief that a system of sustainable family farming, ranching, and fishing is fundamental to food security and nutrition, alleviates hunger and poverty, and creates environmental stewardship for thriving rural communities.”

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