UK co-ops launch international trading development fund

The fund, led by Central England Co-op with the Co-op College, was launched on 2 July, the International Day of Co-operatives

Central England Co-op has today launched an international development fund to help communities around the world develop trading opportunities.

Announced on the International Day of Co-operatives (2 July), the Co-operative International Trading Development Fund will be led by Central England in collaboration with the Co-operative College and will initially focus on Malawi.

From today, a range of products from suppliers with trading or product links to Malawi goes on sale in Central England’s more than 260 stores. The fund will also be supported from sales of the existing Co-op Fairtrade range.

Central England’s in-store product displays will feature Malawi-inspired artwork produced by Creative Co-op, and products will include tea sold under the Revolver Co-op brand, sourced from Msuwadzi – a smallholder tea association in the south of Malawi; Kilombero rice, supplied by JTS; and macadamia nuts supplied by NutCellars – all sourced from smallholder farms.

Funds from the product sales will support work plans created from focus groups carried out with Malawian co-ops – which identified priorities including climate change mitigation and help with gaining Fairtrade certification.

Related: How are co-ops marking the International Day?

And a programme of support on the ground is being developed with the help of the College and the Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO) to improve trading capacity.

Central England CEO Debbie Robinson said: “As we celebrate the International Day of the Co-operatives it’s a perfect time to launch the Co-operative International Trading Development Fund and its very first initiative – Our Malawi Partnership.

“I visited Malawi many years ago whilst doing work on Fairtrade and promised the people I met there that we’d do more.

“A co-operative principle has always been to focus on developing sustainable initiatives that strengthen community livelihoods and we’re so excited to be working with our co-operative partners, Co-op College and MAFECO to use this fund to make a real difference on the ground in Malawi.

“By buying from the special range of new products landing in our stores to mark the launch, as well as our existing Fairtrade range, contributions will be made to a truly transformative initiative that will help to move communities out of poverty.”

Dr Sarah Alldred, head of International Partnerships at Co-op College, said: “I’ve always felt extremely welcome in Malawi and the people I’ve met have been keen to share their stories and hopes for the future.

“The smallholder farmers I spoke with are all at different stages of their co-operative journey. Some are just now joining a co-operative and others have worked with MAFECO for years, but all of them are enthusiastic about the benefits that co-operative working can bring to them, their families, and their wider communities.

“The Malawi Partnership is a fantastic working example of Principle Six – co-operation among co-operatives. It facilitates the sharing of knowledge and resources and most importantly it will allow smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods for generations to come.

“We’re excited that the College’s long track record in international co-operative development, and our unique co-operative learning approach is helping to facilitate such an impactful co-operative development project.”

Paul Birch, CEO of Revolver Co-op, one of the suppliers supporting the initiative, said: “Malawi relies on tobacco for 70% of its farming cash crops. Moving agriculture to a sustainable co-operative model, promoting co-op values, reflecting international Fairtrade standards and switching production to crops that can both be consumed locally and export, are at the centre of the alliance between Central England Co-op, Co-op College and Revolver Co-op.

“Only through refocusing Malawi agriculture towards sustainable development goals, can we help transform Malawi’s economy and benefit its people.”

Tracy Mitchell, from JTS, suppliers of Kilombero Rice, said: “We are really pleased to be part of this exciting project to support co-operatives and farmers’ associations in Malawi and thrilled that our award-winning Kilombero rice will be available to Central England customers. 

“Not only does the rice taste great – and we’ve got Great Taste Awards to prove it – but it also delivers a significant difference to the growers, an association of smallholder farmers in the northern part of the country.

“Being part of this initiative will enhance the farmer associations’ ability to strengthen community livelihoods as they seek to bring the poorest out of poverty.”