[UN-NGO]“Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world” is the theme chosen by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), for the 2012 World Food Day observances. It has been chosen to highlight the role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger and correlates with the United Nations designation of 2012 as “International Year of Cooperatives.”
In 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, addressed the links between the right to food, the security of land tenure, the access to land in rural areas, and the competition between food and energy crops that exists in some countries.
In 2011, the theme of World Food Day, “Food Prices—From Crisis to Stability”– correlated with the global food price crisis. It sought to focus attention on the causes of the fluctuations in food prices and their threat to food security especially in the developing countries of the world. According to the World Bank, rising food costs in 2010-2011 pushed nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty. The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in his 2011 report, noted that even more distressing than the limited supply of food, is the 25 billion people living in poverty—small farmers, agricultural workers, the urban poor and indigenous people – who lack purchasing power.
The FAO aims to improve agricultural productivity at all levels, enhance the lives of rural population, raise levels of nutrition across the globe, and contribute to the growth of the world economy. Agricultural Cooperatives are one means of achieving these goals while directly addressing the concerns highlighted in the themes of the past several years.
An agricultural cooperative, sometimes known as a farmers’ co-op, is an association in which farmers pool their resources in certain areas of activity, such as supply, marketing, and credit in order to achieve a better outcome. Supply cooperatives provide their members with inputs for agricultural production, including seeds, fertilizers, fuel, and machinery services. Some supply cooperatives also operate machinery pools that provide mechanical field services (e.g., plowing, harvesting) to their members. Marketing cooperatives are established by farmers to undertake preparation, packaging, distribution, and marketing of farm products, including both crops and livestock. Farmers also widely rely on credit cooperatives as a source of financing for both working capital and investments. To provide a source of credit, farmers can group together funds that can be loaned out to members. This allows farmers to have a more direct access to critical farm inputs, such as seeds and implements. The loans for these inputs are repaid when the farmer sends produce to the marketing cooperative.
The primary objective of a cooperative is to meet the needs of its members in an efficient and economical way by reducing the cost of services, improving the quality of products and developing the best use of the members’ resources. While the economic benefits are a strong driver in forming cooperatives, it is not the sole consideration. Equally important for the farmers is that they retain the governance of the association, thereby ensuring they have ultimate ownership and control. This ensures that the profit reimbursement, usually through the dividend payout is shared only among the members of the cooperative.
Agricultural cooperatives, as tools for sustainable development in poor countries, support small scale farmers in multiple ways. Members own and govern the cooperative, their resources are productive and the benefits are shared equitably. Fresh, nutritious food is grown locally, is less expensive and more easily available. This contributes to the eradication of hunger locally but also enables smallholder farmers to participate in the national and global economy.
World Food Day has been celebrated on October 16—the anniversary of FAO’s founding in 1945, every year since 1981. It was established to raise awareness and understanding of the approaches to ending hunger, malnutrition and poverty and the problems involved in the supply and distribution of food.
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