1995 Profile: Agricultural Co-operation throughout the World. An Overview

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

Source : Review of International Co-operation Vol.89, No
1/1996, 61-70.

               1995 Profile: Agricultural Co-operation
                  throughout the World. An Overview 
                  by Daniel Cote* and Ginette Carre*

Why Have a Study? 
In the Summer of 1994, we carried out a study of agricultural
co-operatives throughout the world at the request of the
directors of the Cooperative Federee de Quebec. Despite the
resounding successes of co-operative enterprise in the
agro-food industries of a number of countries, there were few
works that would give readers an idea of the size of the
contribution made by agricultural co-operatives on a
world-wide scale. The 1995 Profile : Agricultural Co-operation
throughout the World  therefore partly helps to fill this gap.

The publication covers 47 countries for which one can find
information, by country, on the number of co-operatives, the
number of members and the total turnover of the agricultural
co-operatives. For 24 countries, more substantial data made it
possible to present the situation in the form of country data

Widespread Phenomenon 
The overall picture that emerges confirms that agricultural
co-operatives throughout the world play a strategic role. The
co-operatives in the 47 countries documented have a total
turnover of more than $US 450,000 million. We are therefore
dealing with a major phenomenon and this finding is confirmed
in the East and the West, in the North and in the South.

          Table 1:  Picture of the world situation
           (totals for the 47 countries surveyed)1 

 Continent          Number of      Number of      Turnover
                    members        co-operatives  ($US
Europe              19,288,023     53,315         215,616   
Asia               148,403,784     243,375        121,032   
Americas             6,001,492     12,249         104,491   
Africa               6,649,180     22,226           8,557   
Oceania 2              100,090        151           5,373   

TOTAL              180,442,569    331,316         455,069
          Table 2: Europe - Countries ranked by turnover 
Country (year)      Number of      Number of      Turnover  
                    members        co-operatives  ($US

France (1994)       720,000        16,800         74,996    
Germany (1994)    3,768,000         5,198         50,632    
Netherlands(1994)   290,147           271         25,461    
Ireland (1993)      157,847            98         10,900    
Sweden (1994)       306,000            64         10,900    
Denmark (1993)      109,713           111         10,475    
Italy (1992)        436,239         3,549          8,452    
Austria (1993)      466,207         1,155          8,312    
Norway (1994)       n/a                83          4,760    
U.K.(1993)          247,542           498          3,842    
Finland (1994)      101,800            61          3,814    
Spain (1990)        830,040         3,116          3,016
Switzerland (1993)   70,000           624          2,114    
Belgium (1990)       48,270           100          1,896    
Iceland (1993)       28,100            26            415
Luxembourg(1990)      3,400            12            259
Cyprus (1994)        30,100            65             67
Greece (1990)       934,863         7,255             65
Czech Rep.(1993)  2,130,655         2,612            n/a
Poland (1989)     7,963,200         8,133            n/a
Bulgaria (1993)     329,000         1,205            n/a
Hungary (1990)      316,900         1,335            n/a
Portugal                n/a           944            n/a

TOTAL            19,288,023        53,315        215,616
1.   The totals were calculated from country data recorded for
     various years according to the information available. 

2.   The picture of Oceania is based on partial data from

On the basis of turnover, European agricultural co-operatives
head the world ranking with a volume of more than $US 215,000
million. Three countries - France, Germany and the Netherlands
- occupy leading positions in the world as well as in Europe.
The presence of agricultural co-operatives in Ireland, Sweden,
Denmark, Italy and Austria is less extensive but still
significant. And an analysis of the evolution of the European
situation3 enables us to derive the following findings.

In general, there has been a steady fall in the number of
co-operatives and the number of members in all European
countries. For the number of co-operatives, there is a clear
trend but it is difficult to measure  because the data
generally cover two statistical years (1993 and 1994). In
Germany, however, since the figures cover a longer period
(1987-1994), one can obtain an overview of the phenomenon,
which shows a decline of 20%. Only in France was there an
increase, as a result of the development of the CUMAs
(agricultural machinery use co-operatives) in the 1980s. The
more precise figures for the fall in the number of members
indicate that the downward trend is making itself felt more or
less strongly according to the countries documented. For most
of them, however, the reduction is around 25% for periods
covering the last five to ten years. 

A study of the evolution of turnover offers a more meaningful
picture of the situation of the European agricultural
co-operatives and sometimes shows up opposite situations from
one country to another. France, at the top of the European
ranking, stands out. It is in fact the only country where the
turnover of the agricultural co-operatives is steadily
increasing. For the other major European countries, turnover
in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark is relatively stable
with a slight falling trend when the figures are observed in
national currency. Countries like Finland, Norway, the United
Kingdom and Sweden4, are distinguished by a major decline in
the turnover of all their agricultural co-operatives. 

It is difficult - without figures that would permit an
estimate of the relative share held by agricultural
co-operatives in relation to total activity generated by the
agro-food sector in a given country - to ascertain from the
Profile whether the agricultural co-operatives maintained
their position in Europe or whether, as the above study on the
evolution of turnover would lead one to think, the European
agricultural co-operatives are in decline. We hope that future
editions of the Profile will allow us to obtain a clearer view
of the situation. The situation must also be viewed in the
light of the sectors of activity in which the agricultural
co-operatives operate, because it may be relevant to take a
look at the vitality or otherwise of those sectors, their role
in the economies of the European countries, etc. 

From this standpoint, the European agricultural co-operatives
occupy an important place in the dairy and meat industries, in
terms of both turnover and market share. By way of example,
dairy-product processing and marketing activities account for
more than 30% of the total turnover of the agricultural
co-operatives in the following countries: Germany, the
Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Market shares are
often over 90% - this is true for Denmark, Sweden, Finland and
Norway. In Denmark, two co-operatives, MD Foods and
KloverMaelk, alone control 80% (66% - 14%) of the country's
dairy production. 

France and the United Kingdom, in particular, offer a
different picture. In these countries, the agricultural
co-operatives are present in a wider range of sectors,
although some are dominant. This is the case in France where,
despite a presence of the co-operatives in most agro-food
sectors, the dairy industry and the livestock slaughtering
sector are the largest in terms of turn-over. The agricultural
co-operatives in the United Kingdom are notable for being
active in many sectors and having a rather modest turnover. 

Although very few Asian countries could be documented within
the study, the availability of data on the turnover of
agricultural co-operatives in Japan, the Republic of Korea,
India and China does make it possible to produce a fairly
meaningful overall picture of Asia's agricultural co-operative

It is already possible, for example, to position Asia as a
continent that makes a major contribution to the world total
in terms not only of the number of co-operative members and
the number of its agricultural co-operatives but also of
turnover. Asia has in fact the second largest agricultural
co-operative turnover by continent. This is mainly because of
the volume of turnover of the Japanese agricultural
co-operatives, which head the ranking by country with a
turnover of nearly $US 90,000 million. 

Our ability to make a more detailed study of the evolution of
the agricultural situation on the Asian continent is limited
for two particular reasons. First, the information available
to us as we went to press allowed us to prepare only four
country data sheets - for Japan, the Republic of Korea, India
and Israel. Second, the complexity of the Asian co-operative
systems prompts caution when analysing the figures shown. 

Subject to these reservations, we can nevertheless see that
the picture that emerges from the current data on Asia differs
greatly depending on the countries listed. The differences are
something of a reminder of the cultural, political and
economic diversity of the sub-regions contained within Asia.
One can see, for example, that there has been a decline in the
number of co-operatives in Japan (30% during the period
1984-1993) and in the Republic of Korea (7% between
1989-1993), while the numbers are rising strongly in India
(162% between 1990-1993). Data series for Israel, China and
Sri Lanka were not available. If we look at the evolution of
the number of  members we also see differences between
countries. Throughout the period covered by the study, i.e.
since 1984, Japan, for example, has shown a gradual decrease
in the number of agricultural co-operative members. The same
is true for the Republic of Korea, although the data is more
patchy and approximate. In India, there was a 44% increase
between 1990 and 1993 in the number of members of agricultural

While Japan and the Republic of Korea have shown movements in
the same direction for the number of agricultural
co-operatives and the number of members, the same cannot be
said when one looks at the evolution of the turnover of the
agricultural co-operatives in the two countries. In Japan, the
total turnover of the agricultural co-operatives increased by
17% between 1987 and 1993, to reach nearly $US 90 billion.
Korea's agricultural co-operatives, however, after a rapid
growth in turnover in the 1970s, experienced a slowdown during
the 1980s, followed by a marked decrease at the beginning of
the 1990s as a result of which the turnover of the Korean
agricultural co-operatives has fallen overall by 3% since
1980. In India, reinforcing the picture that is already
emerging, the growth of 45% in the turnover of the Indian
agricultural co-operatives between 1990 and 1993 seems to
indicate that agricultural co-operatives in India are booming.

The complexity of the co-operative systems in Asia is shown
particularly clearly in the country data sheets on Japan, the
Republic of Korea and India, where the insurance sector and
the financial sector are considered to be part of the
structure of their agricultural co-operatives. Furthermore, at
the local level, the co-operatives in each of these countries
are generally multi-purpose enterprises offering product
marketing services, input supplies, credit, etc. Despite this
common finding, the situation varies greatly from one country
to another. 

          Table 3:  Asia - Countries ranked by turnover

Country (year)      Number of      Number of      Turnover
                    members        co-operatives  ($US
Japan (1993)        5,484,000           3,073       89,174
Rep.of Korea(1993)  2,000,000           1,404       11,000
China (1994)              n/a          35,000        9,225
India (1993)      140,700,000         202,000        9,014
Israel (1993)         120,400           1,311        2,549
Sri Lanka (1993)       99,384             585           70

TOTAL             148,403,784         243,375      121,032  

In Japan, for example, one of the aims of the basic
multi-purpose co-operatives is to improve the living
conditions of farmers by action in the areas of consumption,
health (the agricultural co-operatives own a hundred or so
hospitals) and leisure activities. They thus play an important
role in the rural communities. There are also "specialised"
co-operatives,  which are more like the model to be found in
Europe. They are active in specific sectors (marketing of
fruit and vegetables, livestock and meat products,

In India, the agricultural co-operatives are structured by
sector of activity (marketing, supply, etc.) and by product,
although at the local level there are co-operatives that
assume a varied role (credit, supply, storage). Increasingly
however, the Indian co-operatives are tending to evolve
towards specialised processing and marketing activities, which
currently make a major contribution to the turnover of India's
agricultural co-ops. Three sectors dominate: 1) sugar cane and
sugar-cane processing; 2) cereals and jute production; 3)
cotton, including yarn. We note finally that the dairy
co-operatives are a growth sector. 

Israel is a special case. The strength of the agricultural
co-operatives there is undeniable. In fact, the kibbutz and
moshavs control 80% of the value of the agricultural
production of Israeli farms. In addition to the kibbutz and
the moshavs, there are water supply companies (25% of
agricultural co-operatives) and various co-operatives
specialising in supply or marketing.
The Americas 
Although the information5 available is limited, the 1995
Profile : Agricultural Co-operation throughout the World's 
estimate of a total turnover of more than $US 104,000 million
allows us to put the agricultural co-operatives of the
American continent in third place. The United States alone
accounts for 80% of this turnover, followed by Brazil and

From the data available in the country data sheets, we can
draw a more accurate picture of the evolution of the situation
of the agricultural co-operatives on part of the American

Thus, where valid data are available, one can currently see in
all these countries, with the exception of Mexico, a more or
less marked reduction in the number of agricultural
co-operatives and the number of co-operative members. The
reduction in the number of co-operatives seems be the
strongest in the United States, where the figure has reached
26% in ten years. The evolution of the situation in Mexico,
from the viewpoint of both the number of co-operatives and the
number of members, has shown fluctuations, but as part of a
general upward trend. 

When the previous data are compared with the evolution of
turnover, it can be seen, specifically in the case of the
United States, that the decline in the number of co-operatives
and number of members was accompanied by a increase in
turnover of the order of 12% over the last 10 years. In fact,
after having gone through a rather difficult period of
adjustment during the 1980s, the United States co-operatives
have seen, from the early 1990s, a turn-around in the
situation that has, incidentally, translated into a continuous
growth of market share in some sectors. We would stress that,
on a world-wide scale, the volume of business handled by the
United States agricultural co-ops is often impressive even in
sectors of relatively slight importance within the United
States. In the livestock sector, for example, with a turnover
of $US 5,500 million dollars, or 6% of the total turnover of
the United States agricultural co-operatives, the US
co-operatives lie second on the world scale, while only the
German co-operatives have a larger total turnover for
activities in this sector. 

The picture of the evolution of the total turnover of the
Canadian agricultural co-operatives is less clear. Since 1987,
there seems to be a slight upward trend, but the absence of
information on the market share held by agricultural
co-operatives in the whole Canadian agro-food sector does not
enable us to judge whether this rise indicates a strengthening
of the position of the agricultural co-operatives on the
markets. In the case of the other countries covered by the
study, the data available does not permit us to trace the
evolution of the turnover of the agricultural co-operatives. 

     Table 4:  The Americas - Countries ranked by turnover
                    Number of      Number of      Turnover
Country (year)      members        co-ops         ($US
United States(1993) 4,023,264       4,244           82,900
Brazil (1990)         978,940       1,393           12,338
Canada (1993)         599,179         823            9,253  
Columbia (1992)       158,599         255              n/a  
Mexico (1994)         129,352       2,950              n/a
Argentina (1994)       79,337       2,123              n/a
Costa Rica             32,821          61              n/a
Chile                     n/a         400              n/a

TOTAL               6,001,492      12,249          104,491
5.   The study uses a compilation of data on eight countries -
     the United States, Brazil, Canada

In the Americas, the agricultural co-operatives are active
mainly in the processing and marketing of agricultural
products. This is clearly the situation in the United States
and Canada, where the co-operatives account for nearly 75% of
total turnover. But this is also the case in Brazil and
Colombia, where the modernisation of the agricultural
co-operatives seems to have been accompanied by a
specialisation in processing and marketing activities. The
agricultural  sectors where the co-operatives dominate in
those four countries are cereals and dairy products, although
the strength of their positions on the markets varies
according to the country. In Canada, for example, despite a
strong presence of the co-operatives on the cereals and
oilseeds markets, it must be stressed that the agricultural
co-operatives are seeing, in Canada as a whole, a fall in
their market share in this sector; while their market share
was  rising by 51-60% in the dairy products sector between
1977 and 1992. In livestock, the Canadian co-operatives seem
to be particularly dynamic in hog processing and marketing. 

The current African picture is built up from data from eight
countries: South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Namibia,
Uganda, Senegal and Zambia. Data sheets could be constructed
for four of them - Egypt, Morocco, Uganda and Zambia. We
therefore recognise that our ability to estimate the
importance of agricultural co-operatives in this region of the
world is limited because, in view of their number, these
countries provide a very partial view of the whole of the
continent. More-over, only a few of them play a significant
role in the volume of the agricultural production of the
African continent. Finally, for each of these countries, the
current data are still elementary. It would therefore be
presumptuous to try to derive trends from them in terms of the
evolution of the number of members, number of co-operatives or
turnover particularly since, even where there are data series
(as in the case of Uganda), the interpretation that can be
made of them requires a knowledge of national circumstances
that we do not possess. 

          Table 5:  Africa - Countries ranked by turnover

Country (year)      Number of      Number of      Turnover
                    members        co-operatives  ($US
South Africa(1994)   196,000            258           6,913
Egypt (1994)       4,250,000          6,542           1,528
Namibia (1994)         8,109             25             124
Senegal (1994)       800,000          4,500               2
Uganda (1994)        898,944          4,381             n/a
Zambia (1994)        340,482          1,375             n/a
Morocco (1993)       155,645          2,024             n/a
Ethiopia (1994)          n/a          3,121             n/a

TOTAL              6,649,180         22,226           8,557

As we have done elsewhere, let us highlight some of the
features of the sectors in which the agricultural
co-operatives in some African countries are active. 

In Egypt, village-level co-operatives were traditionally
multi-purpose co-operatives undertaking activities such as
agricultural input supply services, credit, access to
machinery, marketing services, training, and even rural
development. Single-purpose co-operatives, which began to
emerge in 1977 and specialise in the processing and marketing
of vegetable products (cotton, cereals, groundnuts, fruit and
vegetables), among other things, are tending nowadays to take
the place of the multi- purpose co-operatives. 

In Morocco, one encounters three types of co-operative: land
reform co-operatives, cereal co-operatives - closely
controlled by the State - and non land reform co-operatives
formed by voluntary groupings of agricultural producers. The
latter specialise in a limited number of sectors of activity
(CUMA, meat packaging, milk collection, processing, export). 

In Uganda, the agricultural co-operatives - which were first
created at the beginning of the century by farmers with the
aim of handling cash-crop marketing activities (coffee,
cotton, tobacco, tea), which until then had been the purview
of foreigners - are still strongly specialised in this sector
today. This positioning could perhaps, incidentally, explain
the fall in the turnover of the Ugandan agricultural
co-operatives, because we know how vulnerable these crops
generally are to fluctuations in their prices on international

The Zambian co-operatives, which have developed particularly
since independence, are engaged in production activities, the
processing and marketing of agricultural products, and also in
the supply of inputs. Nowadays, they are showing a tendency to
open themselves to areas of activity outside agriculture and
consequently seem to be playing a not insignificant role in
enlivening entrepreneurship in rural areas. 

New Zealand, which is the only country of the continent for
which the Profile:  Agricultural Cooperation throughout the
World  has any meaningful data, shows a stable picture in
terms of the evolution of the number of co-operatives and
number of agricultural co-operative members, while turnover is
rising slightly. An important feature of New Zealand's
agricultural co-operatives is vertical integration of their
activities in mainly export industries, particularly the dairy
and meat industries. Their presence is not very significant,
however, in wool and wood processing and marketing, while the
producers in these industries have formed a number of large
service and supply co-operatives. 

        Table 6: Oceania - Countries ranked by turnover
Country (year)      Number of      Number of      Turnover
                    members        co-operatives  ($US
New Zealand (1994)    67,000            47            3,800
Australia6 (1994)     33,090           104            1,575

TOTAL                100,090           151            5,373

A Document in Evolution 
Our objective in the years to come is to create a network of
colleagues that would enable us to obtain an increasingly
complete picture and to enhance the statistical data with
various types of qualitative information so that the work
could serve as a springboard for more sophisticated research. 

In addition to the statistical picture, therefore, we would
envisage various contributions on the place and role of the
agricultural co-operatives, particularly in the changing
context in which we are currently living more or less
everywhere in our respective countries. The circumstances that
the agricultural co-operatives are facing, the impact of
globalisation, the changing role of the State, are all matters
of interest raised by the new environment in which
agricultural co-operatives in most countries are having and
will have to operate. The more detailed picture of some
countries provided by the 1995 Profile: Agricultural
Cooperation throughout the World  already indicates, as we
have just seen, some of the roads to change that are being
taken by agricultural co-operatives. 

* Mr Cote is lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes
Commerciales and manages the Co-operative Management Centre
and the Agro-food Management Centre. Ms Carre is a
professional researcher at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes