Book Reviews (1996)

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This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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December, 1996
(Source: Coop Dialogue, Vol.4, No.4, May-Dec.,pp.28-29 & 31)

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Book Reviews
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Co-operatives and Environment: An International Perspective
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(by Saxena, S.K., Pragati Publications, Delhi, 1995, pp.95, price Rs.295/-)


It is rare that one comes across such a useful and concise book, 
containing up-to-date information on environmental matters 
from five countries, spread over in three continents. The book 
describes the role of co-operative movements in several sectors 
in Canada, India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Sweden. The 
movements' experiences in environmental work is analysed 
concisely and, in the concluding chapter, the author works out 
a strategy for co-operatives worldwide for its implementation 
in a consistent manner. At the end, an index, both author-wise 
and subject-wise, is given for the convenience of the readers 
and users.

The book begins by defining the goals of the co-operative and 
environmental movements. The Dictionary of Scientific Literacy, 
edited by Brennan defines environment thus: "Everything that 
makes up our surroundings". In the physical world, the terms 
means the global or local conditions affecting our health and
well-being. Environmental abuse is the subject of much concern 
to governments, the people and their socio-economic development 
organisations like co-operatives. The book briefly describes the
 main features of co-operatives and the environmental work. 
Both the movements have similar features, dealing with 
multi-disciplinary nature of subjects. Environment like co-operation, 
has numerous facets and is almost co-extensive with the frontiers
of several social and physical sciences. The two are required to 
have a long-term perspective and are directly concerned with 
educational approaches, participative methods and strategies 
for sustainable development. The World Commission on 
Environment and Development has helped in establishing the 
concept of `sustainable development' which, according to the 
Commission means that humanity `meets the needs of the 
present without compromising the ability of future generations 
to meet their own needs'. In its more than 150 years history, the 
Co-operative Movement has evolved in many directions. It, 
therefore, intersects the field of  environment at several points. 
The co-operative intervention in environmental work is well 
described through case studies from the developed as well as 
developing countries.

The focus of the book is on the attitude taken, and the work 
done by selected co-operative movements. Their role is 
discussed and illustrated by citing from the following examples:

i.	The Sasakachewan Wheat Pool (Canada)
ii.  	The Co-operative Atlantic (Canada)
iii.	 Kooperativa Forbundet - KF (Sweden)
iv.	The Japanese Consumers Co-operative Movement (Japan)
v.	The National Tree Growers' Federation - NTGF (India)
vi.	The Indian Farmers' Fertiliser Co-operative - IFFCO
     	(India)
vii.	The National Co-operative Council - NCC (Sri Lanka)

The above mentioned case studies are, three from the two 
advanced co-operative movements of the West, and three are 
from two developing movements of East. In between, Japan has 
emerged as an Archipelago of Pollution and effective 
environmental work through co-operatives. The contents of
these national level studies focus on special sectors like the 
consumer, agricultural, savings and credit, fisheries, etc., in 
which the co-operative movements have done considerable 
amount of work.

At the international level, a Conference organised by the ICA 
in Rome in 1993, brought together various sectors of the 
co-operative movement. Representatives of different sectors 
defined the specific contribution they could make towards 
environmental protection. At the conference, the agricultural 
sector defined its role as one of promoting sustainable 
agricultural development and ensuring food security. The 
representatives from consumer co-operatives advocated a policy 
of three R's - reduce, refuse, recycle - in order to achieve 
sustainable consumption patterns. For ensuring better understanding, 
consumer co-operatives will have to encourage more sustainable 
consumption patterns by educating individuals and households
to take purchasing decisions which are eco-friendly. The 
representatives of the fishery sector defined their role as one 
of promoting sustainable use of marine and fresh-water living 
resources and in establishing sustainable aqua-culture 
development strategies. Other sectors also defined their 
respective roles for contributing to environmental preservation 
and improvement.

The representatives of all sectors represented at the conference 
emphasized the need for dissemination of information and 
knowledge on sound eco-systems. In this respect, broad public 
participation was considered essential. The message of environmental 
protection must fall on receptive ears. Co-operative members 
and the people at large need to have access to information which 
is in the possession of public authorities, research institutes 
and economic enterprises. While the co-operative movement 
can establish these contacts by virtue of its business activities 
and relations with a variety of institutions, the Government 
will need to ensure that a network of the parties involved and 
interested in environmental affairs exists in the country. In 
addition, the co-operative movement worldwide will have to 
have closer  contacts with the international organisations like 
the UN bodies, International Organisation of  agricultural 
Producers, the International Organization of Consumer Unions, 
European Union and the Codex Alimentarious. It may be noted 
that the co-operative movements, in almost all countries, have 
extensive educational arrangements and these could provide 
a ready facility for dissemination of information, provided 
environmental issues are included in the curricula and the 
sector-wise potential contribution is emphasized and explained.

At the end, while making an overall assessment, the author 
concludes: "The selective cases discussed in this book from 
Canada, Sweden, Japan, India and Sri Lanka should not be 
seen to imply that co-operative movements in general are 
brimming with concern over the deterioration of environment. 
The cases discussed are, rather, in the nature of exceptions...." 
In spite of the efforts made by the ICA Regional Offices and 
several of its member organisations, the saving of  environment 
is not yet seen as a subject of constant attention in which 
the Movement have a significant role to play. The author, 
therefore, suggests a strategy for co-operatives, which can be 
outlined as:

1.	Raising awareness and identifying the decision-makers,

2.	Emphasizing elements common to the co-operative 
ideology and the environmental movement,

3.	Contacts with government agencies and technical 
institutions,

4.	Strengthening relations with other NGOs and effective 
lobbying,

5.	Education and staffing, and

6.	An International Co-operative Group on environment 
under the auspices of the International Co-operative Alliance.

The information on the environmental work being done by 
selected co-operative organisations, though given in concise form, 
makes an interesting and purposeful reading. It makes readers 
realise the extent and importance of environmental work being 
done by the NGOs like co-operatives, in spite of their limited 
means. The co-operative readers are thus inspired to be seriously 
interested in environmental issues and contribute their bit to
make their co-operatives eco-friendly, and saviours of the 
community resources. They are spontaneously led to study 
the co-operative strategy given in the book. It is hoped that 
many of them would get motivated to take eco-friendly steps 
individually, group-wise or organisationally. Thus the book is 
highly recommended for wider reading by the co-operators and 
other thinking people. It is a very useful and timely publication 
authored by a senior and highly experienced researcher in co-operation.
Possibly, the book can also be adapted for use as study guide for 
educational work by the co-operative education and training 
institutions and universities worldwide.

- Dharm Vir, HRD Consultant (New Delhi)


The World of Co-operative Enterprises - 1996 
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(by Wendy Hurp, Kate Targett, Anne Fielding and David 
Thirkell, Plunkett Foundation, UK, 1995, pp.212, price 
Rs.966/-)

Co-operative enterprises service their members most effectively 
and strengthen the co-operative movement by working 
together through local, national, regional and international 
structures. Draft documents for the recently adopted Statement 
on Co-operative Identity by the International Co-operative 
Alliance (ICA), gave `co-operation between co-operatives' greater 
prominence than any other principle. In this context, two factors 
motivate co-operation among co-operatives: the need for effective 
representation before public bodies and a desire to achieve economies 
of scale, improve management, extend development support, or 
attain similar shared objectives.

The book has been organized into four parts. In the first part, 
the papers by Brazda, Schediwy and by Taylor stimulate 
thought about the circumstances under which federations can, 
or should, be organized hierarchically. Taylor uses the 
Mondragon experience to show how the answer to this question 
can be influenced by whether the federation is primarily a 
business alliance or an expression of social solidarity, and by 
whether its basis is geographical or sectoral. Lynden Hiller 
builds a bridge to the `New Ways of Financing' when he says 
that co-operatives should seriously consider "working with 
organizations which either have capital or can provide access 
to capital markets". Lynden Hiller's contribution gives an idea 
of how co-operation between co-operatives could be applied to 
the maximum when he writes: "For many of the organizations 
surveyed, one important factor contributing to the success of a 
strategic alliance has been the clear and early identification of
its criteria for success".

Saxena elucidates that there are at least three countries in which 
the national apex body linking all sectors in a joint committee 
that provides a contact point for the movement and meets as and 
when necessary. Japan, France and Britain are all demonstrating 
that cost-effective work can be done at this level, with minimal 
expenditure on staff and premises. In the section reviewing 
co-operation in the UK, the British experience is described in an 
article on the recent activities of the U.K. Co-op Council. By 
contrast, Brazda and Schediwy uses examples from many parts 
of Europe to explore the hypothesis that federals tend to be 
`stronger' if they are bigger and richer than their constituent 
parts.

In the second part, the paper by Masao Ohya notes that with one health-care co-operative dating from as early as 1919, Japan has long been a leader in collaborative care and currently has 118 medical-health consumer co-operatives serving some 1.8 million members. 
The article by Unimed's founder, Dr. Edmundo Castilho, 
outlines the social and political conditions that inspired this 
successful collaborative effort. Eva Ternegren and Ove Jobring 
argue persuasively for the rate of increased user involvement 
and flexible structural conditions in evolving relevant systems. 
Giovanni Rossi assesses the changing relationship between the 
state and the social co-operatives and suggests both caveats 
and courses for the future. In the U.K., Roger Spear highlights 
the problems of uneven care delivery that can result from locally 
determined provision and the problems attendant on the 
`marketisation' of care. David Thompson tells the social and 
economic success status of Co-operative Home Care Associates, 
in which co-operative principles have been applied to good 
advantage in demanding provision of home care in the US.

In the third part, the article by Edgar Parnell, `Some Approaches 
to the Financing of Co-operatives' highlights, those involved in 
arranging the finances of co-operatives cannot be allowed to 
overlook the fundamentals which distinguish a co-operative from 
an investor company. At the same time, as Ian Langdon points 
out in his article "Contemplating Capital Flexibility Within a 
Co-operative Structure", many co-operatives need to gain access 
to substantial amounts of capital with much greater levels of 
flexibility than has hitherto been the norm within co-operatives. 

The other articles in this section outline the correct issues for 
agricultural co-operatives in Denmark and those for workers' 
co-operatives in the United Kingdom, both confirm the 
currency of the topic of finance - a topic that the World of  
Co-operative Enterprise shall undoubtedly need to revisit yet 
again in future editions. 

Part four deals with the review of the status of co-operative 
enterprises in its various sectors in the United Kingdom. It is 
appropriate that in the edition compiled during the ICA 
Centennial year, Lord Carter should strike such a positive note 
in relation to the United Kingdom. Co-operative Council. He 
pays tribute to the willingness of diverse member organizations 
to collaborate, and there is an internationally relevant lesson 
there. The individual sectors deliver mixed messages. 

The credit union have a very positive outlook and currently 
enjoy unprecedented growth. Workers' co-operatives demand, 
and demonstrate a capacity for innovation and flexibility. 
The co-operative retailers are conscious of the challenges 
which confront them, reappraising pre-conceptions about 
their role, markets and operations. 

The condition of the co-operative housing sector reflects equivalent 
impact in relation to state support. In addition to an overview 
of significant developments, the agricultural sector considers 
whether there is an economic cycle of formation, evolution, 
maturity and even obsolescence for co-operative enterprises 
which needs controlling in order to better protect the interests 
of members. 	

The book aims to contribute effectively to the successful economic 
and social development of co-operative enterprises. It promotes 
he co-operative ideas and values, generating an exchange of 
views and experiences on policy and practice, between those 
involved or interested in the advancement of co-operatives with 
their many forms. It aims to inform, to question, and to stimulate 
innovative thinking, leading to practical progress.

Co-operative pioneers, advisors and academics, through discursive 
articles specially commissioned to relate to selected themes, take 
up issues of current and future concern to worldwide co-operatives 
with their common interests and problems.

(by Dr. A. Rajagopala Rao MA, MBA, Ph.D., Faculty member at 
the Regional Institute of Co-operative Management, Bangalore, India)