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After more than a decade of liberalized market reforms and a continued decline in development assistance to agriculture, small farmer cooperatives in transitional and developing countries are having a particularly difficult time. Long accustomed to benefiting from government support to finance their investment needs and to operating in protected product markets, they now must operate in a much more open and competitive business environment. This will require major improvements in business efficiency and in the way in which cooperatives mobilize member capital to finance growth.

Computerization of cooperative business information systems can lead to large increases in efficiency and competitiveness. Unfortunately, the level of computerization of agricultural cooperatives remains alarmingly low. But this is changing as businesses in other sectors computerize and as competition with private firms increases. Many agricultural cooperatives, especially larger ones, are now beginning to think more seriously about the benefits that can accrue through computerization. Yet experience has shown that computerization efforts do not always succeed; they involve risk and failure can be costly.

So far, managers and board members interested in exploring the feasibility of computerization have no introductory reference to guide them in assessing the benefits, costs and risks involved. The manual’s friendly format, with humorous drawings to illustrate difficult-to-understand points plus frequent reference to concrete examples, is meant to ease some of those concerns. We hope the formula works.

Maximiliano Cox
Rural Development Division

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