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Agricultural co-operatives feeding the world

November 5, 2012

The role of cooperatives in improving food security and contributing to the eradication of hunger will be the theme of World Food Day, celebrated on October 16, 2012. The aim of World Food Day and the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives is to increase awareness and understanding of cooperatives, and encourage national governments, development agencies, NGOs, and research and academic institutions to provide support in the development of strong, efficient and equitable cooperatives and producer organisations.

Globally, it is estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that one billion individuals are cooperative members, generating more than 100 million jobs worldwide. Being a member of an agricultural cooperative gives smallholders and other producers better access to the information, tools and services they need, helping them to increase food production, market their goods and create jobs.

Acting collectively increases farmers' negotiating power, enabling them to take advantage of better market opportunities and withstand shocks and crises. In Kenya, FAO estimates that over 900,000 farmers earn income through membership of agricultural cooperatives, which have the major market share in the coffee, dairy, pyrethrum and cotton sectors. In Egypt, more than 4 million farmers are coop members.

Another powerful contribution of cooperatives and producer organisations is in helping small producers to voice their concerns and interests and influence policy-making processes. To provide greater strength, smaller cooperatives may join to form unions and federations, which can supply more extensive services to members. The National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi, for example, has set up laboratory facilities on behalf of its members in order to tackle aflatoxin contamination in groundnuts. This has enabled 4000 groundnut farmers to export their crop to the UK, where they are sold by several leading supermarkets.