Co-operative Day Message 1997

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          This document has been made available in electronic
          format by the International Co-operative Alliance
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                              MAY 1997

               75th  International Co-operative Day
                    (Saturday, 5 July, 1997)

     The Co-operative Contribution to World Food Security
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According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation
(FAO), ensuring food security, the basic right of people to
the food they need, is perhaps the greatest challenge facing
the world community. The challenge is most critical in
low-income, food-deficient countries. The vast majority of the
world's poor live in rural areas and are directly dependent on
agriculture for employment and income. The most disadvantaged
of all are women, stresses the FAO, the silent majority of the
world's poor. Rural women produce up to 80% of food in
developing countries. Yet studies indicate that they have
title only to a fraction of farmland and access to just 10% of
credit and 5% of extension advice. In recent years the
situation has deteriorated.

In future years, much of the responsibility for meeting the
nutritional needs of a growing population will fall upon
farmers and their organisations, including co-operatives.
Today, the force of agricultural co-operatives is already
significant. They are responsible for nearly one-third of
total agricultural production with an estimated value of USD
522 billion. They are key actors in many national economies
providing large percentages of domestic food products, but are
equally important as food exporters. They will increasingly be
called upon to provide higher yields while respecting the
environment and consumer food safety concerns.

However, agricultural co-operatives are not the only
co-operatives which contribute to food security. The
multi-sectoral character of the Movement provides
contributions to all aspects of improving food production and
access. For example, fishery co-operatives provide important
sources of protein; consumer co-operatives make food available
in urban and rural areas - food that is safe, high quality and
reasonably priced to ensure access by a majority of the
population; the financial co-operatives (banks, credit unions,
savings and credit and insurance co-operatives) are key actors
providing invaluable services to the agricultural and consumer
sectors to ensure production and distribution of food.

A common factor between them is that co-operatives help their
members help themselves as jointly-owned, democratically
controlled enterprises. Co-operatives provide income and
employment and contribute to the development of communities.

Food availability is also linked to sustainable development as
a whole. The Co-operative Movement has shown its concern to
the sustainable development and environment issue  for decades
and has more recently taken action at a global level in
support of recent UN initiatives, such as the 1992 Environment
Conference and the ensuing UN Agenda 21.

In the five years since the Rio Conference on Environment and
Sustainable Development, the ICA adopted a resolution on
environment and sustainable development in 1992, followed by a
universal declaration on the commitment of the Co-operative
Movement. The movement's own blueprint for achieving
sustainable development, Co-operative Agenda 21, was adopted
at ICA's centennial meetings  in 1995. Co-operative Agenda 21
outlines actions promoting sustainable development, noting
that co-operatives, as people's organizations, are ideally
placed to implement activities dealing with the protection of
the environment as well as with sustainable development 
questions. In the Co-operative Agenda 21 document, specific
commitments are expressed by the different economic actors.
Agricultural co-operatives have pledged to promote sustainable
agriculture by promoting the conservation of plant and animal
genetic resources, and land and water resources. 

Environmentally viable, socially supportive and economically
sound objectives for other sectors in the Co-operative
Movement were also defined for the consumer co-operatives,
housing, financial, tourism, worker and energy sectors.

However, improving food security and achieving sustainable
development must be part of a global process involving
political and financial initiatives. It requires technical and
educational actions and must be integrated into operational,
coherent and innovative strategies. Partnerships between
people's organizations, other elements of the civil society
and governments will be needed if we are to address these
challenges.

The ICA calls on its members to work with other organizations
and national governments to address the challenge of providing
food security to the world's growing population. It calls on
co-operatives from the different economic sectors to implement
the Co-operative Agenda 21, so as to provide a sustainable
environment for future generations of co-operators to enjoy.