Boosting cooperation, boosting farming


How can we increase collective action between farmers across Europe?

After participating in the BOND project, livestock farmer Marcin is encouraging networking and collaboration between local farmers. ©Marcin Wojcik

16/12/2020

It might sound like a cliché, but when it comes to agriculture, it’s amazing what cooperation and collective action can do.

This is the basic idea behind the BOND project, funded by the European Commission and carried out with the help of FAO. BOND, which stands for Bringing Organizations & Network Development to higher levels in the farming sector in Europe, aims to boost social capital in agriculture – or, put simply, the ability of farmers to work together towards common goals. This may sound obvious, but in many places, cooperation among farmers is not in the traditions or necessarily even in the culture of the country. In fact, in some places, cooperation among farmers can be considered innovative.

Farmers and land managers play a key role in the sustainability of Europe’s farming sector, and the way farmers network, innovate and work together makes a big difference to the land we live on and the food we eat. For example, cooperatives allow smallholder farmers to pool their resources and share machinery, making food production more efficient, reliable and more sustainable in the long-term. 

Marcin’s story

Marcin Wojcik raises cattle with his father and brother on their family farm. He feeds the cattle grass, herbs, flowers, clover and other legumes instead of grain, the more common feed. This ‘pasture-fed’ method wasn’t particularly well-known in Poland. Marcin wanted to change this and increase its visibility, creating a market for pasture-fed beef – but it was difficult to do alone. His aim was to create an association to boost the industry together with other farmers.

FAO’s training sessions, focusing on strategic development and leadership skills, were one of the key parts of the BOND project. Through training courses, collected in the BOND Learning Guide, participants turned ideas into concrete activities through organised, collective action in their communities, including the foundation of new associations and cooperatives. The BOND project also encouraged those trained to train others, strengthening the ownership of the Learning Guide’s contents and methodology and guaranteeing that capacity development activities would carry on in the future.

After participating in this training, Marcin established an association of cattle breeders, called Pastwisko, meaning pasture in Polish. As well as promoting the benefits of pasture-fed farming, the association also encourages agroforestry, a method in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or in pastures to improve soil structure, prevent land degradation and make farming more sustainable. Pastwisko, with its 22 members, is the first association in Poland to link environmental considerations to sustainable production. 

The association has carried out several trainings on agroforestry techniques for local farmers, encouraging networking and sharing of these ideas. “I started spreading the BOND revolution to Polish farmers. It will be the first time they hear about the importance of building community and relations,” Marcin says.

In 2020, with the help of 20 other large farming organisations, Marcin and his association submitted a paper to Poland’s Ministry of Agriculture with policy suggestions. These included establishing buffer zones along water courses, as well as windbreaks and wooded bays, which are all agroforestry techniques that lead to more sustainable livestock production. The ideas in the paper will be adopted in 2022 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and supported with funds.

Both Marcin (left) and Nikolina (right) are using the ideas learned through the BOND project to promote collaboration in their sector. Left/top: ©Marcin Wojcik Right/bottom: ©Nikolina Pokupec

To see, to learn, to tell

Nikolina Pokupec raises sheep and poultry on her farm in Vojakovac, Croatia with her husband, two small children and three employees. She uses holistic farm management principles and an environmentally-friendly farming approach that takes into account the dynamics of the local ecosystem. Currently, she works alongside two community-supported agriculture groups to sell her produce directly to customers.

As part of the BOND project, Nikolina attended a study tour in Arras, France to visit farming cooperatives there and speak with members of the CUMA cooperative, to which about one third of all French farms belong. The BOND project’s strategy is ‘to see, to learn, to tell’, utilising study tours to link up participants with farmers from other countries to share practices and ideas. Nikolina saw that, together, the farmers of the CUMA cooperative had more power, knowledge, resources and financial capital. Members share resources and modern machinery, as well as use their collective power to influence buying and selling prices. She was inspired to start her own farming cooperative back in Croatia.

“I realised that [cooperatives] are the right direction because [in France], people have applied these principles for decades,” she said.  “We will continue to work building unity within the cooperative.”

Encouraging cooperation between farmers can help us build a stronger, more productive agricultural sector. ©Marcin Wojcik

BOND: Stronger together 

Agriculture plays a crucial role in the lives of everyone on our planet, but the sector faces increasing challenges: land degradation, climate change and migration to cities to name just a few. So, what can we do to make it stronger? 

Well, we can help improve farming infrastructure and invest in new, innovative agricultural technology. We can invest in farmers too, enhancing their skills in and knowledge of sustainable practices. All of these things are necessary, but alone, they’re not enough. We need teamwork too. Considering that 95 percent of farms are less than five hectares and more than 98 percent of farms are less than 20 hectares, organisations that foster collective solutions are key. Through initiatives like the BOND project that promote cooperation, we can strengthen the agricultural sector, making it more productive, sustainable and capable of supporting us and future generations.


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