Global Dimension in Agricultural Co-operatives (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp.108-109)

Global Dimension in Agricultural Co-operatives
by Mario Dumais*

Globalisation is not a new phenomenon in the agricultural sector. It is
evident both in the inputs sector and that of agricultural and food products.
Globalisation is nurtured through the transformation of traditional plant-
based agriculture into market agriculture.

Another important explanatory factor of globalisation is technological
evolution. Allow me to quote the example of the impact which railroads
and the development of steam navigation over sailing had on American
agriculture during the 19th century. These changes in transport enabled
agricultural products from America to reach the European markets at greatly
reduced costs, which accelerated trade.

In the 20th century, the development of the market for agricultural inputs
has acquired a growing international dimension.

Agricultural machinery, seedlings, and protective products for plants, to
mention but a few examples, are now sold on what has become a
worldwide market.

This globalisation has also been fuelled by the increasingly rapid pace of
trade liberalisation following the conclusion of the Uruguay Round.

National agricultural policies have repercussions which go beyond borders.
They tend to be increasingly based on parameters negotiated internationally.

In the last resort, globalisation is being consolidated through businesses
whose dimension is clearly international.

In this context, how are we to situate agricultural co-operatives at the
international level?

My view is that agricultural co-operation is a large and under-estimated
movement, but one which has not yet made the most of its inherent

Agricultural co-operation, basically made up of local enterprises, does in
fact have an overall world-wide dimension.  It is present on all continents,
in the North and South alike.

A study carried out in Canada by Montreal University identified 580,000
agricultural co-operative enterprises bringing together more than 225 million
members and with an annual turnover of more than USD 500 million. These
enterprises have some experience of co-operating with each other at the
regional and national level, and indeed sometimes internationally.  This is
the result of regroupings within federations, co-operative unions or joint

Despite these positive achievements, the potential exists to do much more.

Being by nature both collective and private, co-operatives represent a future
alternative to the control of the economy by trans-national or State

In my view, one of the priorities of the ICA and its specialised oragnisations
must be to work to achieve this potential.

* The text of the speech of Mario Dumais, Chairman of the International
   Co-operative Agricultural Organisation (ICAO), has been translated from
   the French