Improving the economic success of small-scale farmers by supporting community agriculture and food cooperatives.
We provide the following support and services to existing community cooperatives:
- Improved access to current market information and to local and regional output markets
- Increased access to high-quality inputs such as seed, fertilizer, natural resources, and loans
- Access to new equipment, tools and appropriate technologies to increase yields, add value to crops, and conserve resources
- Training in new farming practices and business management skills
- Access to Same Polytechnic College faculty, students, and facilities to expand capacity and impact
Examples from around the world have shown that rural institutions like producer organizations and cooperatives help small farmers, fishermen, livestock keepers, forest holders, and other producers access vital information, tools, and services. This allows them to increase food production, market goods, and create jobs, improving their livelihoods and increasing food security in the world.
The numerous challenges facing small producers in developing countries make this type of assistance particularly critical. Without it, their unique circumstances often make it almost impossible to prosper and grow.
For example, in 2007–2008, the price of maize soared by 74% and rice prices climbed 166%, presenting an excellent opportunity for farmers to increase profits by growing and selling more of these crops. However, because small farmers in developing countries are far removed from national and international markets in terms of geography, technology, and communications, they did not have the capacity to do so. Accessing high-quality inputs is one challenge; even when a crop’s selling price is higher, farmers must factor in the variable cost of buying seeds and fertilizer before deciding to expand their production. Access to loans to pay for these supplies can also be a problem. Other obstacles can include lack of transport to bring produce to local markets or the absence of proper infrastructure in rural areas.
As a result, small farmers acting alone do not benefit from higher food prices, a fact confirmed by accumulated research and experience. However, those acting collectively in strong producer organizations and cooperatives have been shown to be better able to take advantage of market opportunities and mitigate the negative effects of food and other crises.
A range of services
Strong cooperatives and other producer organizations overcome difficulties such as those described above by offering their members access to natural resources, information, communication, input and output markets, technologies, and training. They also facilitate their participation in decision making processes.
Through practices like group purchasing and marketing, farmers gain market power and get better prices on agricultural inputs and other necessities.
Institutional arrangements can also have a significant impact. Mediation committees have improved smallholders’ access to and management of natural resources by helping them secure land rights. Input shops (for collective purchasing) and warehouse receipt systems (for collective access to credit) have increased producers’ access to markets and productive assets while reducing high transaction costs.
Cooperatives and producer organizations are central to building small producers’ skills, providing them with appropriate knowledge and helping them innovate and adapt as needed. Some enable farmers to build their capacity to analyze production systems, identify problems, test possible solutions, and eventually adopt the practices and technologies best suited to their farming systems.
Another powerful contribution of cooperatives and producer organizations is their ability to help small producers voice their concerns and interests, and ultimately increase their negotiating power and influence policy-making processes. Multi-stakeholder platforms and consultative fora allow small producers to discuss the design and implementation of public policies.
These services can help small producers both secure their livelihoods and play a greater role in meeting the growing demand for food on local, national, and international markets. They are valuable tools in the fight against poverty, hunger, and food insecurity.
Forging relationships with other economic actors is important — not only to access markets, but also to gain bargaining power and negotiate fairer commercial conditions. Allies with management or marketing experience can prove useful to small producers. In some cases, private companies act as business partners, providing marketing, management, and financial expertise that smallholder farmers typically lack.
Similar groups of producers may also come together to form larger farmers’ groups, federations, and unions. In Ethiopia, coffee farmers joined to form the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, which has helped members achieve better quality production and operations through technical education and improved management. In the search for strength, individual cooperatives form unions and federations of cooperatives that supply services to members and lobby governments to make sure that policies reflect their views. Cooperatives need governments, and governments need cooperatives.
Cooperative members can benefit from training and skills development in technical areas such as sustainable agriculture production techniques and technologies, but also in soft skills. Cooperative members and managers — both women and men — need to build capacity in areas like leadership, entrepreneurship, negotiation, self-confidence, business development, and policy development and advocacy.
The success of a cooperative depends in large part on the way it is governed and managed. Given the specific nature of these social enterprises, managers need specially adapted business training that takes into account cooperatives’ core values and principles. Universities and business schools can play an important role in this process.