NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts–A cooperative is an autonomous, democratic association of women and men, seeking to strike a balance between pursuing profit and meeting their economic, social and cultural needs. Over 800 million people are members of cooperatives which generate more than 100 million jobs worldwide, especially for smallholder farmers. Cooperatives are important for global food security for the following reasons:
1. President Barack Obama signed the Global Food Security Act into law on July 21, 2016. The act aims to eliminate global hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Cooperatives are mentioned in the act as cornerstones to promote global food security as well as good governance allowing farmers to become key stakeholders of the global food chain.
2. Smallholder farmers are quintessential to addressing hunger in rural areas where agriculture is the main source of employment and income. However, owing to their lack of market power, they face significant barriers of entry such as outdated farming techniques, a lack of infrastructure and limited credit to access financial services.
3. Cooperatives, as a result, offer opportunities that smallholders could not achieve individually. They help connect individual farmers to the global food markets and increase food production by aggregating their product and equipping them with access to marketing, savings, credit, insurance and technology.
4. In addition, smallholder producers are empowered by being a part of a larger group. They can negotiate better terms in contract farming and lower prices for agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and equipment. This encourages them to increase their productivity and develop a sustainable supply of high-quality food.
5. The Pachamama Coffee Cooperative of Small Scale Coffee Producers (Pacha) has demonstrated how cooperatives help smallholders achieve sustainable livelihoods, improve food security in their communities and play a greater role in meeting the growing demand for food in local, national and international markets.
6. Based in California, Pacha represents millions of families in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Ethiopia. The cooperative business model has allowed these small farmers to gain more bargaining power in global consumer markets and set the price of their own premium coffees. Meanwhile, they invest in more value-added activities to promote sustainable farming, prevent pollution of waterways and protect wildlife in surrounding ecosystems.
7. Cooperatives also play an important role in encouraging women’s participation in the workforce. They often establish quotas for women in their leadership and improve women farmers’ access to new skills and technologies. Cooperatives also conduct training activities to sensitize cooperative members to the negative impact of gender inequalities in the home, workplace and society as a whole.
8. With the participation of women, cooperatives can better safeguard global food security and reduce hunger and poverty.
– Yvie Yao