Cooperatives and other membership-based organizations have proven to offer valuable opportunities (directly and/or indirectly) for farm and non-farm rural and urban employment.
Cooperatives are defined as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise” (1995 International Co-operative Alliance Statement on the cooperative identity, incorporated into 2002 International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation R. 193 on the Promotion of Cooperatives and the 2001 UN Guidelines aimed at creating a supportive environment for the development of cooperatives).
Farmers’ and rural producers’ organizations (FOs) refer to independent, non-governmental, membership-based rural organizations of part or fulltime self-employed smallholders and family farmers, pastoralists, artisanal fishers, landless people, women, small entrepreneurs and indigenous peoples. They range from formal groups covered by national legislation, such as cooperatives and national farmers unions, to looser self-help groupings and associations (FAO, 2007).
FAO and the ILO have been working within their respective mandates in the field of cooperative development for many years. The ILO is the only UN specialized agency with an explicit mandate on cooperatives. Collaboration between the two organizations dates back to 1955 when they drew up a Supplementary Understanding to the Cooperation Agreement signed in 1947. Since the creation of the interagency Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) in 1971 both organizations have been working closely with the members of COPAC to promote cooperatives through policy dialogue, cooperative training, and the collection and dissemination of information. Since 1995, FAO and ILO celebrate the United Nations International Day of Cooperatives, which aims at increasing awareness on cooperatives and underscoring the contribution of the cooperative movement to the resolution of the major problems addressed by the United Nations.
The 2004 Memorandum of Understanding between FAO and ILO expressly mentions cooperatives. The UN Member States responded positively to a UN Note Verbale regarding the desirability and feasibility of an International Year of Cooperatives as did the COPAC members and other experts during a Expert Group Meeting, organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in April 2009. Following this, the United Nations proclaimed in December 2009 the year 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives (GA Res. A/RES/64/136). The main objectives of the 2012 UN International Year of Cooperatives are: (1) To increase public awareness about cooperatives and their contribution to socio-economic development and the achievement of internationally agreed development goals including the MDGs; (2) to promote the formation and growth of cooperatives for socio-economic empowerment; and (3) to provide an enabling environment through policies, law and regulations. In this context, among other activities, FAO has updated parts of the standard management toolkit “Material and Techniques for Cooperative Management Training (MATCOM)”, which was originally published by the ILO, and is now downloadable at the Rural Finance Learning Center. MATCOM served also as a basis for ILO (ILO Cooperative Facility for Africa/COOPAFRICA and ILO Cooperative Branch) to initiate the development of My.COOP, a training package and programme on the management of agricultural cooperatives. My.COOP aims at improving the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of cooperative services to members. The programme includes components to enable the training of trainers as well as the training of managers of agricultural cooperatives. The package allows for an innovative menu of training delivery such as face-to-face training, self-learning, distance-learning and mobile learning. Ex-changes amongst trainees and experts are facilitated on the My.COOP platform: www.agriculture-my.coop. FAO and ILO are members of the My.COOP partnership.
In Africa, FAO and ILO/COOPAFRICA work together on cooperative development within the framework of the UN reform process in 3 out of the 4 African One UN pilot countries (Tanzania, Rwanda and Mozambique). In Ethiopia, ILO, FAO (and UNIDO) work together in project on the development of edible oil value chains and its cooperative suppliers. Besides ILO/COOPAFRICA financed the adaption and use of CoopWorks a member and management information software programme for cooperatives that was initially developed with support by FAO.
In Madagascar the ILO’s Cooperative Branch (COOP) worked in the “Grand Sud” region in Madagascar, in order to strengthen community-based cooperation initiatives in support of human-security related activities. In this project, the FAO was a strategic partner and the collaboration involved the promotion of a system of cooperatively managed grain banks and the achievement of qualitative and quantitative improvements in production. Currently, this project is suspended due to the political situation.