This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
75th International Co-operative Day Message (1997)

June, 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol. 90 No. 3, 1997, pp.2-3)

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

Message from the International Co-operative Alliance

The Co-operative Contribution to World Food Security

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.