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Cooperatives and Producers Organizations

Cooperatives are autonomous, membership-based organizations. They are based on principles of non-discrimination and provide a range of services for their members, including market opportunities, and empower all their members - women, men and youth. They represent a unique model of socially minded enterprise. Agricultural and food cooperatives are important vehicles for reducing poverty and generating employment, and therefore contribute to socio-economic development and, ultimately, food security.

Cooperatives provide a range of services to their members, particularly access to productive inputs, output markets, information and communication. They also allow their members to obtain access to and natural resources and to have a voice in decision-making processes that influence policies.

Agricultural and food cooperatives represent a significant portion of the global cooperative sector in developed and developing countries; 30 percent of the 300 largest cooperatives are found in the agriculture sector. These can assume a variety of forms, from small, grassroots associations to unions, federations and chambers of agriculture. Worldwide, cooperatives have more than 1 billion members, a large proportion of which are in the agriculture sector.

In Brazil, 37 percent of agricultural GDP is produced through cooperatives; in Egypt, 4 million farmers earn their income through cooperative membership; in Ethiopia the equivalent figure is 900 000; and in India, 16.5 million litres of milk are collected every day from 12 million farmers in dairy cooperatives. In Europe, agricultural cooperatives have an overall market share of about 60 percent of the processing and marketing of agricultural commodities and about 50 percent of the supply of inputs.

Cooperatives are able to thrive and act as a vehicle for inclusion and market integration for their members only if they are empowered and have an appropriate enabling environment. They need sound policies, economic incentives, a conducive regulatory and legal framework and participatory frameworks that enable them to consult and engage in dialogue with various stakeholders, particularly decision-makers.

FAO is the lead agency ensuring that agriculture cooperatives are recognized and remain in the international agenda. FAO encourages member governments to establish enabling environments conducive to improving small producers’ livelihoods. This includes: conducive policies, transparent legal frameworks and economic incentives as well as the development of consultation frameworks for policy-related dialogues between governments and various stakeholders including producer organizations and cooperatives.  These consultation frameworks aim to ensure the representation and voice of POs and cooperatives in decision making processes.

The International Year of Cooperatives

The Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to strengthening partnerships with agricultural cooperatives and producer organizations, calling the world’s attention by proclaiming ‘Agricultural cooperatives - key to feeding the world’ as the theme of the 2012 World Food Day, which was observed in over 150 countries. In the context of the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives (IYC), FAO joined forces with the other Rome-based agencies – the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) and other United Nations (UN) entities to promote and build awareness and understanding of the role of agricultural and food cooperatives in employment generation, poverty alleviation and improved food security.