Importance of cooperatives in development re-affirmed at Floriade

The first of the FoodFirst/ Floriade conference sequence on food and development issues took place on April 24th. This gathering, co-organised by Agri-ProFocus, underlined the importance of organising farmers, because together they can access markets and finance. Key factors for successful cooperatives are trust, good governance, supportive policy and keeping close to the ‘ground’.

The event was attended by around 175 participants from many different backgrounds. Among the speakers were Kees Wantenaar (Chair of Agri-ProFocus) and quite a number of Agri-ProFocus member professionals, such as Vincent Lokin and Pierre van Hedel (Rabobank Foundation), Ellen Mangnus (KIT) and Christiaan Rebergen (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Key note speaker was the Kenyan Minister of Cooperative Development, Joseph Nyagah. According to Nyagah, many African countries have become too dependent on aid from abroad. Starting cooperative enterprises will enable farmers to gain their own livelihoods – as long as policies support agricultural development, irrigation is researched and invested in, and efforts are made to get credit to the farmer.

Rather than aid, Nyagah would prefer to see fair and equal trade. He relates how he once got the Dutch and German ambassadors together and prized them for their development assistance to Kenya – “but if you pay my mother only 20 eurocents per kilo of coffee, she will never be able to buy inputs for her next harvest!” His statement receives a laugh and loud applause from the audience.

In her presentation together with Ton Duffhues (ZLTO), Ellen Mangnus (KIT) explored how characteristics of cooperatives in Mali can be explained by looking at Dutch cooperative history. Like in the Netherlands, the initiative to start a cooperative often comes from outsiders, and informal relations and member solidarity, rather than strictly adhering to formal rules, play important roles in the development of a cooperative.

During the day in all presentations and discussions, several interesting points to look at emerged. Governments need to take a lead on providing an enabling environment for agricultural entrepreneurship; farmers need better access to savings and credit facilities; close relations with the farmers and mutual trust are crucial to cooperatives; we need to think about involving the poorest of the poor in agriculture or agricultural services; and efforts must be made to attract youth to farming, in order to keep up production.

At Agri-ProFocus, we believe that the conference was a success. The outcomes of the discussions can be used to fuel our knowledge agenda, in particular the theme of ‘Organised Farmers in Agri-Business’. We thank the speakers, participants and co-organisers for all their efforts!

If you want to read more about the conference or see pictures, please check out the online Agri-ProFocus platform on Organised farmers at http://apf-producers.ning.com. FoodFirst has also published an article on their website, see: http://www.foodfirst.eu/index.php?a=24april2012.