31 October 2012, Rome - One of the only chances small-scale food producers have to gain competitive access to local and global markets is by banding together in cooperatives, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told a meeting of the World Cooperatives Congress in Manchester today.
The International Year of Cooperatives is being observed in 2012.
"Cooperatives follow core values and principles that are critical to doing business in an equitable manner, that seeks to empower and benefits its members and the community it is inserted in," Graziano da Silva said in a keynote speech. "This is especially relevant in poor rural communities, where joining forces is central to promoting sustainable local development."
He said that in the case of agriculture, the cooperative business model helps small- and medium-scale farmers, fishers and others add value to their production and gain access to markets. Many food producers, through their cooperatives, are now even taking part in policy-making discussions that affect their lives.
In her speech to the congress, Pauline Green, President of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), also stressed the importance of increased participation of the people in the decision making process.
Reduce poverty to reduce hunger
"Whether you are in the UK, Brazil, Kenya,Thailand or Nepal, cooperatives help to generate employment, boost national economies and reduce poverty," he told congress members from around the world attending a week-long expo. "This, in turn, helps to improve food security."
Graziano da Silva recalled that although the number of hungry people has declined by 132 million since 1990, it still stands at almost 870 million, which he said was unacceptable in a world that produces enough food for all.
The FAO chief said that his Organization was committed to fostering the growth of agricultural cooperatives, including through appointing special ambassadors for cooperatives to spread the word and by developing approaches, guidelines, methodologies and training tools on organizational development and policy support.
He called on his audience to contribute to the global plan of action that will emerge from the International Year of Cooperatives, perhaps by assisting less advanced fellow cooperatives in developing countries.
Graziano da Silva welcomed the proposal presented by ICA to create a global development fund to support cooperatives in the developing world, focusing on agricultural and rural cooperatives in Africa.
"We want their cooperatives to be as strong as our cooperatives," said the Chairman of the Cooperative Banking Group and Global Development Cooperative, Paul Flowers, who presented the proposal to the congress.