October 16, 2012

Agricultural Cooperatives: Key to Feeding the World

Each year on the 16th of October, World Food Day marks the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), draws attention to agricultural production, and strengthens efforts to end hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. This year’s theme, “Agricultural Cooperatives – Key to Feeding the World,” raises awareness and understanding of one approach to end hunger. Written in collaboration with Thaelon Tremain, President of Pachamama Coffee Cooperative and Brendan Rice, World Food Day Intern at FAO, this piece is cross-posted on the World Food Day USA Blog.

Cooperatives are an important piece of achieving food security for all. 70 percent of those who face hunger live in rural areas where agriculture serves as the economic mainstay. Smallholder farmers are central to addressing hunger, yet many face barriers such as a lack of infrastructure, outdated farming practices, and a lack of access to financial services.  Cooperatives improve farmers’ agricultural productivity and equip them with access to marketing, savings, credit, insurance, and technology. Farmer cooperatives serve both to connect farmers to markets and to increase food production.

Supporting smallholder farmers enhances global food security and reduces poverty. Cooperatives link smallholder farmers to markets by aggregating their product, facilitating the adoption of new technologies and inputs, encouraging greater productivity and crop diversification, and providing a platform for smallholder producers in decisions that affect their livelihoods.

It is estimated that 1 billion individuals are members of cooperatives worldwide, generating more than 100 million jobs around the world. In agriculture, forestry, fishing, and livestock keeping, members participate in production, profit-sharing, cost-saving, risk-sharing and income-generating activities, which lead to better bargaining power for members as buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

One example based in California, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative of Small-Scale Coffee Producers (“Pacha”), is a unique global cooperative that is wholly-owned and controlled by small-scale coffee farmers around the world. Composed of five member cooperatives, Pacha represents tens of thousands of families in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and Ethiopia. Following organic growing principles, the farmers are also concerned with environmental sustainability and the impact of coffee production on the health of surrounding ecosystems.  Member cooperatives are also involved in restoration, activities to prevent pollution of waterways, and wildlife conservation.

The family farmers that co-own Pachamama Coffee are celebrating United Nation’s declaration that 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives. Much of their success is attributed to the ownership structure of the cooperative business model, which enables producers to invest in more value-added activities, such as marketing a “farmer-owned” brand in the USA and setting the price of their own premium coffees.  By pooling the resources of thousands of small farmers and linking them directly to consumer markets, Pachamama is able to pay farmers more for their crop while providing a valuable marketing platform that farmers own and control.

Good things happen when people believe in themselves and get organized. On World Food Day 2012, let us resolve to give cooperatives a helping hand, enabling them to overcome constraints and to play their full role in the drive to end hunger and poverty. This World Food Day, learn more about the importance of agricultural cooperatives by visiting FAO’s World Food Day site or the U.N.’s International year of the Cooperative page. More in depth information can be found in FAO’s issue brief on agricultural cooperatives.

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  • Cedric Jeanneret
    October 16, 2012 at 9:07am

    Hi, for those interest in a more econometric overview of cooperatives’ potential, may I recommend reading the latest Rabobank report on the subjet.
    News: http://t.co/FaN79g5u
    PDF (direct download): http://t.co/1rAlPO3J

    This commenter is not affiliated in any way to the report and/or bank here named.

  • Joaquín Boehnert
    October 16, 2012 at 7:22am

    Thank you for this very interesting article! Greetings from the region Alto Beni and the Cacao cooperative EL CEIBO – http://www.elceibo.com with more than 3000 members in this tropical low-land region in Bolivia.