On opting to celebrate International Co-op Day
How can we ensure that the farmers and communities who grow coffee are receiving the opportunities and resources they need, that they aren’t taken advantage of, and that they have a access to security and stability?
For so many millions of individuals, good coffee is a sacred pleasure. Something that makes all the other things a bit better. It can make the sun shine brighter, the rain get lighter, and paying taxes seem more reasonable (academic proof pending). Subsequently, no one who loves coffee wants to discover that their passion/indulgence/crippling addiction is creating demand in an industry powered by farmers who in too many cases struggle through poverty and hardship year after year. How can we ensure that the farmers and communities who grow the crop are receiving the opportunities and resources they need, that they aren’t taken advantage of, and that they have a access to security and stability?
Co-operatives present one of the most viable long-term solutions to such questions, a fact that will be celebrated this Saturday 1st July on the UN’s International Co-operative Day. It hasn’t got the same consumer appeal as International Fried Chicken Day maybe (6th July, mark it in your diary), but it’s a cause worth raising awareness for because it represents the sustainable production of so many consumer goods; in particular the one our industry is working so hard to save: coffee.
Cocafelol Co-operative in Ocotepeque, Honduras.
A co-operative is defined as an ‘autonomous association of persons’ that is ‘united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise’. They are based, according to the ICA, on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. There are currently 2,370 co-operatives operating in 63 countries around the world, according to the most recent stats, more than a quarter of which are in the agricultural sector.
Co-operatives are a ‘great good’. They’re an important avenue through which farmers can better their own circumstances in a sustainable manner. On their own, a smallholder producer often has limited resources and bargaining power. By banding together though, a group of coffee farmers can work collectively and get better prices for their produce, access credit and financing, receive training and technical support to help them improve their crop to get better prices, and build better infrastructure in their communities.
A member of the East-Timorese CCT Co-operative turning parchment to ensure it dries evenly
There have been some arguments against co-operatives in the past. Mismanagement and poor leadership is sometimes cited as risks, and ‘effectiveness in targeting the poorest of the poor families (Ahmed and Mesfin, 2017)’ in some regions has been questioned. Besides that there is also evidence to suggest that a co-operative’s increased profitability can encourage farmers to drive for increased output at the cost of the environment. It is worth considering, however, that poor leadership, inequality, and environmentally unsound practices are problems being faced daily all over the globe. To assume that co-operatives in their current form are the end of the road is a missed opportunity. The structure of a co-operative should be geared through proper democratic management and values to identify operational problems, then to innovate and improve itself. It’s so far the best method for these farmers to achieve independence, self-determination, and empowerment. If there may be some hiccups, it’s a risk worth taking– with time and effort, these might be worked through as a collective. Few of the problems they face as individuals can be tackled effectively on their own.
Parchment collected and ready to be hulled before shipment by Coop Dota in Costa Rica
Studies have so far suggested that the benefits of establishing co-operatives outweigh the potential disadvantages. Co-operatives have been shown to have a ‘positive and significant impact on the level of trust, satisfaction, and commitment of the members’(D.Mojo, et al, 2015). They provide participants with ‘opportunities for ownership, participation, interaction, training, and information sharing’ and are ‘effective in improving the wellbeing of the rural community’(Ahmed and Mesfin, 2017). They also are effective in empowering women within the community when they include female participation (E.Lecoutere, 2015), with the added advantage that the inclusion of women increases resilience and innovation (A. Borda-Rodruiguez & S. Vicari, 2015). Eco-label associated cooperatives in particular are proven to ‘deliver better social services…. investing premiums in schools, health centres, and clean water development’. Considering these advantages, all of which contribute to stronger, more unified community, a group of producers who would otherwise remain divided are surely in the best position to create a better future for themselves.
Building long-term relationships with such co-operatives can be one of the most mutually-rewarding trade strategies available in the coffee world. It provides the opportunity to give and receive direct feedback, to grow and innovate, and to share in the spoils of the subsequent growth in quality and stability. So on Saturday, consider raising a glass to the future of the world’s co-operatives, because the fate of our industry is less certain without them.
At Bennetts, we are proud to have lasting partnerships with many such groups; to find out more, call us on 03 9853 0328, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lecoutere. E, ‘The impact of Agricultural Co-operatives on Women’s Empowerment: Evidence from Uganda’, Journal of Co-operative Organization and Management, Volume 5, Issue 1, May 2017, pp 14–27
Borda-Rodriguez. A & Vicari. S, ‘Coffee Co-operatives in Malawi: Building Resilience through Innovation,’ Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Volume 86, Issue 2, 2015, pp. 317-338
Mojo. D, Fischer. C, Degefa. T, ‘Social and Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Co-operatives: Evidence from Ethiopia’, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, Volume 22, Issue 5, 2015, pp. 338-400
Ahmed M.H & Mesfin H.M, ‘The Impact of Agricultural Cooperatives Membership on the Wellbeing of Smallholder Farmers: Empirical Evidence from Eastern Ethiopia’, Agricultural and Food Economics, Volume 5, Issue 3, 2017