Enabling rural cooperatives and producer organizations to thrive as sustainable business enterprises
Dear Forum members,
Rural cooperatives and producer organizations play a crucial role in the eradication of hunger and poverty, in the promotion of social harmony and in the achievement of more equitable economic growth.
In the context of the International Year of Cooperatives 2012, FAO, in close collaboration with the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP), is taking the lead in promoting agricultural cooperatives. The Rome-based Agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP) are committed to strengthen the capacity of rural cooperatives and producer organizations, as well as encouraging governments to establish favorable policies, legal frameworks and participatory processes to promote their growth and sustainability.
Following the interest in cooperatives and rural organizations, “Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world” has been chosen as the theme of the 2012 World Food Day, to highlight the role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger.
Since one of the weaknesses of many cooperatives promoted by outsiders is their over-dependence on government or donor support, the purpose of this online discussion will be to share your experiences in this field and help identify the ideal external business, legal, policy, etc. conditions that will enable these member-based organizations to become more self-reliant and sustainable business enterprises.
For the purpose of this three-week on-line discussion, participants are invited to refer, enrich and discuss the elements of the pillars listed below:
- Business environment: Economic incentives and business conditions which promote the development of more self-reliant, sustainable and effective cooperatives and other producer organizations; including incentives to invest in agriculture and environmentally sustainable production processes; and access to local, national and international markets, etc.
- Legal framework: Legal, judicial, fiscal and administrative legislation that facilitates and/or encourages the formation of more autonomous cooperatives and other producer organizations.
- Introduction of information systems that more effectively assess the direct and indirect economic and social benefits of cooperatives and other producer organizations at different levels - member, community and country.
- Policy: Policies that promote and sustain producer organizations (eg. Tax and credit incentives for small scale processing investments by cooperatives and other producer organizations funding for training or capacity building, incentives to facilitate access to credit for cooperatives).
- Consultative and participatory processes: Consultative mechanisms or arenas for dialogue between the government and cooperatives in place ensuring an active role and voice in the formulation of policies affecting small farmers and their organizations.
- Capacity development and information programs: include a set of training, information, communication and extension programs specifically tailored to different organizational forms of joint self-help action, informal as well as formal.
- Cultural norms and customary rules: Socio-cultural characteristics can facilitate or impede the development of cooperatives and other producer organizations (eg. Difficulty of women to associate and be involved in cooperatives, norms prohibiting the right to association).
The outcome of the online discussions will feed into the global, regional and national debates, as well as policy actions and future Plan of Action of the International Year of Cooperatives 2012 under the theme “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World”.
For the purpose of this discussion, we use the term “rural cooperatives” to cover agriculture, fisheries and forestry and we refer to the seven Cooperative Principles, adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995: 1. Voluntary and Open Membership; 2. Democratic Member Control; 3. Members' Economic Participation; 4. Autonomy and Independence; 5. Education, Training and Information; 6. Cooperation among Cooperatives; 7. Concern for Community.
A brief word about ourselves: we are both been working on issues directly related to cooperatives and rural organizations. John Rouse is the former head of the FAO Cooperatives and Rural Organizations Group and Janos Juhasz is the former FAO Cooperatives and Rural Organizations Officer with extensive field experience in Central and Eastern Europe.
We look forward to a lively and interesting exchange!
John Rouse and Janos Juhasz