As the lead Agency promoting agriculture sector cooperatives within the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives, FAO took part in a panel discussion held 06 June 2012 organized by the Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The topic, “Cooperatives and the role of information and communications technology (ICT),” examined how ICTs are capable of strengthening and expanding cooperative movements. The panel for the event featured Ms. Lila H. Ratsifandrihamanana, Director of FAO Liaison Office in New York, Ms. Carolyn Hoover, CEO of .Coop, and Mr. Gary Fowlie, Director of the International Telecommunication Union NY Office.
Ms. Hoover explained the .coop domain name, which was established in 2002 to help market and connect cooperative movements. She discussed the importance of cooperatives and stated that the internet has the potential to help eradicate poverty on a global scale. Echoing this sentiment, Mr. Gary Fowlie remarked on how ICTs are the missing link in improving conditions in developing countries and are a vital contributor to the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. He described how ICTs have the ability to help cooperatives find and sustain markets for products and improve supply chain management.
Representing FAO, Ms. Ratsifandrihamanana discussed the role of agricultural cooperatives, which are fundamental to rural employment generation, poverty alleviation, and ultimately, improved food security. She described how these agricultural cooperatives are able to function more efficiently by using ICTs; providing enhanced connections between members and improving accounting and administration.
Presented were several successful ICT initiatives which have been led by or involve FAO. These include the e-Agriculture Community of Practice, the Bridging the Rural Digital Divide Programme, the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD), and the recently launched Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition (YoBloCo Awards).
Also discussed were case studies on the use of ICTs in cooperatives. For example, in Kenya, mobile phone-based money transfer (MMT) services allow farmers to receive funds to invest in agricultural financial transactions. In India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) established Community Learning Centers (CLCs) which function as 'hubs' for 10-15 villages and offer a gamut of services, such as ICT training. In Niger, the Dimitra community listeners’ clubs have mobilized more than 6,000 women (mostly rural women) and men, involving 9 community radio stations with the aim to break the isolation of rural populations and to improve their participation in community life and development.
Ms. Ratsifandrihamanana concluded by listing recommendations for improving ICTs in cooperatives. These include the establishment of an enabling environment including a legal, policy, business environment and participatory frameworks; training in the use of and application of ICTs in particular women and youth; and the need to address the crucial challenge of sustainability of ICT projects.