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Agricultural cooperatives critical to fight hunger

World Food Day observed in 150 countries

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
A food-processing cooperative

16 October 2012, Rome - Agricultural cooperatives, already enriching millions of small-scale farmers, could expand and make an even greater contribution against poverty and hunger, if they were given the right support by governments, civil society and academia.

That is the key message of this year's World Food Day, observed today in 150 countries. The theme this year focuses on "Agricultural cooperatives - key to feeding the world" and coincides with the International Year of Cooperatives. World Food Day also commemorates the date when FAO was founded in 1945.

The fight against hunger was given new impetus last week with the release of figures showing that, despite there being 132 million fewer hungry people in the world compared to 20 years ago, there are still nearly 870 million people who go without enough food every day,

WFD ceremony

Pope Benedict XVI said in a message for World Food Day that given the human dimension, agricultural cooperatives are able to favour economic development that meet the most pressing local needs.

"Agricultural cooperatives have an alternative vision to those economic models that seem to have as their only goals, profit, the interests of the markets, the use of food crops for non-food purposes and the introduction of new food production technologies without the necessary precautions," the Pope said.

"The presence of cooperatives can put an end to the trend of speculation in essential food commodities intended for human consumption, and reduce the large-scale acquisition of arable lands that in many regions forces farmers off their land because by themselves they are too weak to defend their rights," he said.

The Pope's message was read by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino at a ceremony at FAO headquarters attended by dignitaries, heads of Rome-based UN agencies and special guests.

Appeal to governments

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva emphasized the need to work for the total eradication of hunger, adding that many countries, in South America, Africa and Asia, are proving that it is possible.

Graziano da Silva threw his weight behind cooperatives as a major way to lift small-scale farmers out of poverty and hunger. Although they produce most of the food in many countries, he said small-scale farmers had poor access to markets to sell their products, lack of bargaining power to buy inputs at better prices and a lack of access to financial services.

"Agricultural cooperatives can help smallholders overcome these constraints," he said. "Cooperatives play a crucial role in generating employment, reducing poverty, and improving food security, and contributing to the gross domestic product in many countries."

The FAO chief urged governments to do their part and "create conditions that allow producer organizations and cooperatives to thrive".

Message from UN Secretary-General

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a messge to World Food Day that agricultural cooperatives would be crucial in meeting the Zero Hunger Challenge that he launched at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June.

"The great expertise of agricultural cooperatives will be invaluable in achieving one of the initiative's primary aims: doubling the income and productivity of smallholder farmers," he said.

Italian president's message

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano said in a message to the ceremony that “co-operatives are able to preserve levels of profit and employment even at times of economic recession. They may therefore represent for economic actors and policy makers the model to inspire future decisions, rethinking economic development in a more sustainable manner that puts the human being again at the heart of any economic process.”
 
"Co-operatives … are also a stimulus for democracy, as demonstrated by their ability to encourage participation, respect for rules and aggregation of members around common values," Napolitano said.

IFAD and cooperatives

President Kanayo F. Nwanze of the International Fund on Agricultural Development told the ceremony that the Fund works closely with cooperatives worldwide.

"From tea growers in Rwanda to livestock resource centres in Nepal, there are many examples of how cooperatives better support smallholder farmers to not only organize themselves, but to collectively increase their opportunities and resources," he said.

"Our experience at IFAD working with farmers has proven time and time again that cooperatives are critical to reach these objectives," he said. "This is why we place a lot of emphasis on cooperatives and continue to enhance our work with them."

WFP chief on hunger

In her address, the World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin spoke on the need for social safety nets for those who could barely feed themselves.
 
"In our world, too many still struggle to find their next meal. Social protection and safety net programmes enable the most vulnerable, particularly women and children, to lift themselves out of hunger and poverty," she said. "These programmes provide a cushion that is otherwise unavailable and build resilience against economic and environmental shocks."