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There has for some years been an increased emphasis on the role of popular participation and rural organizations in effectively reaching the rural poor, and in the building of democratically controlled, member oriented and sustainable rural organizations to help small scale farmers improve their socio-economic conditions. FAO has assumed a leading role in this area since the late 1970s. In 1991 FAO started implementing a new Plan of Action for People’s Participation in Rural Development. This case study has been prepared in that context.

The development and consolidation of local level agricultural service cooperatives, with the objective of serving the economic and social interests of their members, can be an important contributing factor in the process of meeting the needs of the agricultural smallholder population. Experience shows that only cooperatives that respond to the needs of their members, and that include mobilization of own resources in so doing, are able to achieve sustainable development both in economic and democratic terms.

It has been clearly established that such cooperatives can only emerge when they are allowed to evolve free of government control and interference. The state has a role to play, however, in creating an environment, and fostering an interrelationship with cooperatives, that facilitates participatory development based on self-help and mutual help.

It is against this background, and in view of the rapidly changing macro-economic and political environment in most African countries under structural adjustment programs, that recent empirical experiences in the reorientation and reorganization of cooperatives is valuable. The cooperative movement in Zambia has been in the forefront in engaging in the process of effecting such changes, aimed at independence from government, member control and business orientated member service.

It is hoped by the two co-authors that this case study will be of use to cooperatives, governments and donor agencies which are operating in a similarly changing environment, but which may not yet have embarked fully on the path of fundamental cooperative adjustment and reorientation. An improved awareness and a better understanding among politicians and government officials dealing with issues relating to cooperatives, as well as among cooperative leaders, members and staff, of the changing roles of state and cooperatives will undoubtedly facilitate the transition period that lies ahead in most Africa.

Lusaka, Zambia, in July 1993

Paul Öjermark

Charles Chabala

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