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Re: Enabling rural cooperatives and producer organizations to thrive as sustainable business enterprises

Julien Custot FAO, Italy
02.08.2012
Julien Custot

Dear FSN moderator,

As FAO Food for the Cities multi-disciplinary initiative secretariat we would like to contribute in the current discussion on enabling cooperatives and producer organizations. It is very important that the 2012 World Food Day (WFD) is giving recognition of the role cooperatives play in improving food and nutrition security and contributing to the eradication of hunger.

Since 2007 half of the world population lives in urban areas and these people are active players of the food systems as consumers and/or food producers or processors. When looking at the role of cooperatives into the agriculture and food sector, it should be avoided to focus only on rural areas. We also have to consider how cooperative interact with cities and contribute to stronger urban-rural linkages.

In 2007, the FAO “Food for the Cities” multi-disciplinary initiative has produced the “Urban producer’s resource book” (http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a1177e/a1177e00.htm). Some key issues have been identified with regards to group organization as an – overriding and essential - prerequisite to accessing resources, providing a voice and lobbying power and to increase the legitimacy and image of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture (UPA).

Organization of urban producers can help to access the resources of production – land, water, inputs, tools, markets, training etc. In urban setting financial availability – credit and loans allowing investment in better, safer and more profitable UPA activities can be an issues. A bank can provide a single large loan to the group rather than individual small loans to each member. Seed, fertilizer etc. can be bought in bulk for all members and produce can be marketed together, cutting the costs. The policy and regulatory environment – to acknowledge the demand and need for UPA and to support and regulate urban agriculture for the benefit of all is crucial. Local government and institutional support – through extension departments, water and health authorities, city planners, NGOs and other support organizations to provide the information, training and assistance needed to better integrate UPA into the cities needs to be ensured. Environmental and food quality/safety standards – to ensure health, safety and environmental concerns are met and hence also to combat the negative view of UPA can be much easily claimed.

Finally, analysis of the above mentioned issues from a gender perspective – focusing on the constraints faced by women urban producers and their group strategies for overcoming them needs always to be considered. Often there is a gender division in terms of activities with, in many cases, women being the main group involved in processing and marketing, whilst men are involved in production. By working together, a group can take advantage of the skills of different members especially in urban context where division of labour can be more important than in rural areas. Some people may be good at figures, some are good with their hands, some are very quick to learn technical things and others are good with people. Members can also learn from each other. Groups give members, especially women, more self-confidence and status. People are usually more willing to try something new if they are not alone, or can at least ask others what they think.

In urban areas as well as in other settings, it is also important to consider the consumer’s role within the food system. Multi-stakeholder platforms around the food and agriculture issues at local level, such as the establishment of food councils, can contribute in empowering cooperatives of small producers, processors or retailers in small, medium and big size cities all over the world.

With kind regards,
Francesca Gianfelici and Julien Custot
FAO Food for the Cities multi-disciplinary initiative
www.fao.org/fcit