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Presentation at the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC)
15 October 2015, FAO, Rome
The 42nd session of the Committee on World Food Security of FAO (CFS 42) convened under the theme ‘Making a Difference in Food Security and Nutrition’ on 12-15 October in Rome, Italy. CFS is a multi-stakeholder platform that allows its various stakeholders to join the conversation on food security. ICA’s agricultural advisor, Mr. KANG Seok-ju, seconded from ICAO member NACF, took part in the plenary sessions and the associated events. In particular, Mr. Kang participated in the open seminar organized by the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) on 15 October and spoke about the significant roles of cooperatives and producer organizations as active agents of change for inclusive sustainable development and global food security.
In his speech, he appreciated further acknowledgement of the contributions made by cooperative enterprises in the context of current global food issues by commenting on the specific inclusion of cooperatives, by name, in the outcome document of the post-2015 development agenda. Since the new goals and targets will shape national policies, this recognition is expected to help promote the cooperative model in each country. He said that cooperatives have also committed themselves as partners with the United Nations and other institutions to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, since recognition implies responsibility for action. He showcased the success stories about ending hunger and poverty from NACF of Korea and COOVALAIF of Cameroon.
In the Q&A session that followed, the subject of existing skepticism of cooperatives in some countries was raised. It was answered that cooperators were given a very useful tool to be used for advocacy activities for policy makers, and in fact, the doubt has been already almost cleared by the efforts made during the course of the International Year of Cooperatives and the International Year of Family Farming. It was added that the Alliance is striving to obtain better figures to fairly demonstrate the size and impact of cooperatives (e.g. the World Cooperative Monitor), as numbers speak louder than words. In general, Mr. Kang spoke from ICA/ICAO’s holistic perspective to answer questions on cooperative capital, ways to cope with changing market, and different values cooperatives have to members. The full statement delivered follows.
Greetings to organizers and colleagues,
It is a true privilege to speak on behalf of the International Cooperative Alliance, or the Alliance, an independent, non-governmental organization established in 1895 to unite, represent and serve cooperatives worldwide. We provide a global voice and forum for knowledge, expertise and coordinated action for and about cooperatives.
Last month, the UN General Assembly formally adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to continue the work begun by the Millennium Development Goals, and we cooperators appreciated further acknowledgment of the significant roles played by cooperative enterprises in the context of global food issues. As mentioned earlier, the outcome document explains the pivotal role of diverse private sector actors including cooperatives in the implementation of the new agenda, and their investment, innovation for productivity, inclusive economic growth and job creation.
UN recognition and the inclusion of cooperatives in the post-2015 agenda is meaningful because new goals and the accompanied targets will shape national policy, and support to cooperatives can therefore be improved. Indeed, advocacy and the influence on policymakers were selected to be the most important medium- and long-term strategies for the cooperative organizations according to the recent survey conducted by the Alliance.
That said, this recognition of cooperatives as partners implies responsibility. Extreme poverty is mainly concentrated in rural areas. 795 millions of hungry people, or one in nine people suffering from undernourishment, increasing world population mostly in poor and developing countries, or whatever statistics you might take a look at, it all comes down to rural areas where agriculture is the economic mainstay. Cooperatives are people-centered, community-based actors, and about 40% of them are in the food and agricultural sector. And we believe that cooperatives in these areas can be a source of good nutrition by securing livelihoods and income, reducing poverty, empowering women and helping to meet the needs of their members. It is certain that enhanced action among governments, international organizations, civil societies, private sectors and cooperatives can make the problems easier.
Cooperatives have committed themselves as partners with the UN and other institutions to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. They are in fact already contributing to the SDGs concerning ending poverty and hunger and achieving food security and improved nutrition as showcased during the course of the International Year of Cooperative in 2012, and the International Year of Family Farming in 2014, in particular.
It is a known fact that, the cooperative movement is a strong economic and social force. About one billion people are involved in cooperatives and one in every six people in the world is either a member or a client of a cooperative. Cooperatives secure the livelihoods of 250 million people (CICOPA), and the largest 300 cooperatives have a combined turnover of USD 2.36 trillion as of 2013, nearing the GDP of Brazil, the world’s seventh largest economy.
Together with the cooperatives’ social and economic impact, the strength of a cooperative also comes from its collective work. By establishing a cooperative, each individual (scattered and vulnerable persons) could overcome difficulties they face, and improve their access to quality food and nutrition.
Based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, participation, solidarity, and especially equality, the cooperative model allows individual producers to benefit from the power of the group, while maintaining their autonomy. They facilitate farmers’ participation in decision-making processes, help small producers voice their concerns and interests and boost their negotiating power to influence policy making processes. Agricultural cooperatives offer their members a variety of services such as group purchasing and marketing, input shops for collective purchases and skill building to help them innovate and adapt to ever changing markets.
I will take an example from South Korea where cooperatives are widely supported by the public and the government alike. Following the Korean War, the culmination of Cold War in 1950s, usury and corruption abounded in the agricultural communities of the country. Seeking to end this system, and to overcome the extreme poverty, the new government merged agricultural cooperatives and the agricultural bank in 1961, and NACF, the apex organization of the agricultural cooperatives was established. In particular, NACF implemented the New Village Movement, a nationwide rural development campaign, to improve the standard of living of the rural communities. It was quite successful and as a result, the rate of hunger and poverty dropped. And now, NACF is considered to be one of the most successful cooperative enterprises by which many fellow cooperatives benchmark. Korea also has moved from being an ODA recipient to being a donor within only a few decades.
Another example I would like to share is the cooperative in Western Cameroon called, COOVALAIF, which is also well described in the report ‘Cooperatives and the Sustainable Development Goals’ by the ILO and the Alliance.
In 2005, small-scale farmers from the Foumbot community of the Western region of Cameroon formed an agricultural cooperative called COOVALAIF. The farmers relied mainly on food crop production, so working together gave them the chance to find alternative livelihoods to unproductive food crop farming. Upon receiving training, as well as 34 heifers and three bulls from Heifer International Cameroon, 34 farming families embarked on dairy farming to supplement crop production in 2006. With the improved farming practice of fertilizing the land with cow dung harvested from the dairy farms, cooperative members witnessed an unprecedented boost in the yield from food crop production. The success of the cooperative saw membership increase from 34 in 2007 to 48 in 2012. The dairy-herd size has also increased from 34 heifers to 78 with more than 16 bulls sold by members for increased income. Annual household income increased from USD 430 in 2008 to USD 3,000 in 2012, with extra income used to pay school fees for children, for family emergencies, and to diversify into poultry and goat farming.
In conclusion, as the Madame chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security metaphorically spoke of the ‘marathon’ during her opening statement, there is still a long way to go. Some may argue that it is primarily member states’ responsibility with regard to tackling the global food and agriculture challenges. I agree. But at the same time I believe the necessary time to achieve the goals will be shortened by collective action and shared commitment. So, we cooperatives will translate this by dedicating ourselves to doing our part. Thank you.