The 16th of October is celebrated every year as World Food Day. Although this date also coincides with the anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which was founded in 1945, World Food Day is intended to heighten awareness of the plight of the worlds hungry and malnourished and to encourage people worldwide to take action against hunger.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has chosen "Agricultural Cooperatives: Key to Feeding the World" as the theme of this year's World Food Day. According to Director General of the FAO – José Graziano da Silva “This theme was chosen to highlight the many, concrete ways in which agricultural cooperatives and producer organizations help to provide food security, generate employment, contribute to the eradication of hunger, and lift people out of poverty”.
FAO reports that nearly one in seven people suffer from undernourishment, despite the fact that the world has the means to eliminate hunger and fuel sustainable development. There is broad agreement that small farmers will provide much of the extra food needed to feed more than nine billion people by 2050. One of the necessary steps to achieving food security is to support and invest in cooperatives, producer organizations and other rural institutions. Numerous success stories around the world have shown that rural institutions like producer organizations and cooperatives contribute to food security by helping small farmers, fisher folk, livestock keepers, forest holders and other producers to access the information, tools and services they need. This allows them to increase food production, market their goods, create jobs, improve their own livelihoods and increase food security in the world.
As is the case in Dominica, most small producers in developing countries face numerous difficulties which include access to high-quality inputs, access to credit, transportation, or the absence of proper infrastructure in rural areas. The good news is however, that research and experience has shown that small farmers acting collectively in strong producer organizations and cooperatives were better able to take advantage of market opportunities and mitigate the negative effects of food and other crises.
One might ask “What is a cooperative?” It starts when a group of people believe in themselves and get organized. Agricultural and food cooperatives can be registered cooperatives, or they may take other names and forms such as producer organizations, self-help groups as is the case with our traditional “Coude main”, unions and federations of producers, or Chambers of agriculture, to name a few.
Cooperatives are present in all countries and all sectors, including agriculture, food, finance, health care, marketing, insurance and credit. It is estimated that one billion individuals are members of cooperatives worldwide, generating more than 100 million jobs around the world. In agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock, members participate in production, profit-sharing, cost-saving, risk-sharing and income-generating activities, that lead to better bargaining power for members as buyers and sellers in the market place. The International Year of Cooperatives in 2012 celebrates the unique role that this “business model with a social conscience” plays in our modern world. World Food Day 2012 shines a light on agricultural cooperatives in particular, and their contribution to poverty and hunger reduction. After all, of the estimated 925 million hungry people in the world today, 70 percent live in rural areas where agriculture is the economic mainstay. Agricultural and food cooperatives are already a major tool against poverty and hunger, but they could do much more. It is time to strengthen these organizations and facilitate their expansion while creating a favourable business, legal, policy and social climate in which they can thrive.
Despite the successes of producer organizations and cooperatives in helping small farmers overcome different constraints, they often remain limited in scale and scope. The main challenge is to build on these success stories, in order to achieve sustainable rural and agricultural development. It is for this reason that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in collaboration with IICA, the Cooperative Development Division and other support institutions will bring relevant stakeholders together as one of the activities in observance of World Food Day 2012, to review and define the enabling environment for the development of producer organizations. This is in recognition of the fact that government, development agencies, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, and research and academic institutions all have a role to play in supporting the development of strong, efficient and equitable cooperatives and producer organizations.
On this occasion of World Food Day 2012, it is an opportune time to re affirm governments resolve to give producer groups, organisations and cooperatives a helping hand, to enable them to overcome constraints and play their full role in the drive to end hunger and poverty. World Food Day and the International Year of Cooperatives provides us the opportunity to acknowledge the extensive work done by cooperatives in Dominica, and to express our profound gratitude to the members of these organisations for their contribution to food and nutrition, employment, and poverty reduction.