75th International Co-operative Day Message (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
May, 1997
(Source: Coop Dialogue, Vol., No. 1, Jan-April, 1997, pp.20)

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

Message from the International Co-operative Alliance


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 US$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 organisations, 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.