‘Agricultural Cooperatives Vital Weapon in War on Global Poverty, Hunger’ — UN

Human Wrongs Watch

In a world that produces enough food for all and despite gains in the fight against hunger, it is “unacceptable” that close to 870 million people continue to suffer from chronic malnutrition…. Greater ‘cooperativization’ can help reduce hunger and poverty across poor rural communities.

Photo: UN

In fact, “agricultural cooperatives provide small-scale food producers with what may be their best chance to compete in global markets,” the head of the United Nations food agency said on 2 November 2012, adding that cooperative units were particularly important for farmers in the developing world.

Speaking at a week-long meeting of the World Cooperatives Congress in Manchester, England, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, told gathered delegates that cooperatives can help small- and medium-scale farmers and fishermen add value to their production and gain access to wider markets, UN reported.

Specially Relevant in Rural Communities Everywhere

“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,” said Graziano da Silva.

“This is especially relevant in poor rural communities, where joining forces is central to promoting sustainable local development,” he added.

“Whether you are in the UK, Brazil, Kenya, Thailand, or Nepal, cooperatives help to generate employment, boost national economies and reduce poverty,” he noted. “This, in turn, helps to improve food security.”

The FAO chief emphasized that his agency was committed to fostering the growth of agricultural cooperatives around the world and hinted at the appointment of special ambassadors for cooperatives to promote the issue, as well as develop approaches, guidelines, methodologies and training tools on organizational development and policy.

Moreover, he called on those gathered to contribute to the global plan of action expected to emerge from events held in honour of the International Year of Cooperatives – a year-long celebration currently being observed in 2012.

Economic Crises, Climatic Shocks, High, Volatile Food Prices…

Amid economic crises, climatic shocks, and high and volatile food prices in a world of plenty where nearly 870 million people still go hungry, the United Nations on 16 October 2012 marked World Food Day by highlighting agricultural cooperatives as “vital weapon in the war on poverty and hunger.

“Owned by their members, they can generate employment, alleviate poverty, and empower poor and marginalized groups in rural areas, especially women, to drive their own destinies,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message, stressing that the number of people still going hungry is unacceptable in a world where every person would have enough to eat if food were distributed properly.

“As enterprises with a social conscience, cooperatives have also proven to be an effective vehicle for social inclusion, promoting gender equality and encouraging the involvement of youth in agriculture.”

Agricultural Cooperatives Feeding the World

The theme of this year’s Day, which is celebrated on 16 October in honour of the date of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945, is ‘Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world.’

In a ceremony marking the Day at FAO’s headquarters in Rome, its Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, called on governments to do their part and “create conditions that allow producer organizations and cooperatives to thrive” as a major way to lift small-scale farmers out of poverty and hunger, the UN reported.

Although they produce most of the food in many countries, they 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, he said.

“Agricultural cooperatives can help smallholders overcome these constraints,” Graziano da Silva stressed. “Cooperatives play a crucial role in generating employment, reducing poverty, and improving food security, and contributing to the gross domestic product in many countries.”

Speaking at the same ceremony, the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, underscored the need for social safety nets for those who could barely feed themselves.

“Too Many Still Struggle to Find their Next Meal”

“In our world, too many still struggle to find their next meal,” she said. “Social protection and safety net programmes enable the most vulnerable, particularly women and children, to lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. These programmes provide a cushion that is otherwise unavailable and build resilience against economic and environmental shocks.”

At the same event, the head of the UN International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD), which seeks to empower poor rural women and men in developing countries to achieve higher incomes and improved food security, highlighted its role in working 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,” IFAD’s President Kanayo Nwanze said.

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

Farmers, Fisherfolk, Foresters, Herders

Speaking from Geneva, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, added his voice to the messages issued on the Day.

“Experience around the world shows that farmers, fisherfolk, foresters and herders have used cooperative organization to increase food production, gain market access, obtain better prices on agricultural inputs, participate more effectively in global value chains and also to manage natural resources and enhance food security,” he said.

In a report launched on World Food Day, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that the ecological foundations that support food security, including biodiversity are being undermined.

“The era of seemingly ever-lasting production based upon maximizing inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, mining supplies of freshwater and fertile arable land and advancements linked to mechanization are hitting their limits, if indeed they have not already hit them,” UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said in a news release.

Avoiding Future Famines

“The world needs a green revolution but with a capital ‘G’: one that better understands how food is actually grown and produced in terms of the nature-based inputs provided by forests, freshwaters and biodiversity,” he added.

The report – Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food System – was produced in collaboration with IFAD, FAO, WFP, World Bank, and the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank.

It points out the challenges posed by overfishing, unsustainable water use, environmentally degrading agricultural practices and other human activities and calls for the redesign of sustainable agriculture systems, dietary changes, and storage systems and new food standards to reduce waste.

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