Farmers' Organizations & Rural Co-ops (UN/ICA Background Note 1995)

   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.
                                 Background Information Note 8




In his report to the General Assembly at its forty-seventh
session on the status and role of co-operatives in the light of
new economic and social trends (document A/47/216-E/1992/43 of
28 May 1992), the Secretary-General concluded that "organizations
of farmers, including agricultural co-operators, are key
institutions in the revitalization of agriculture and the
development of rural areas, and hence to economic revival
particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their role, in
terms both of faithfully representing farmers' views, and of
providing practical services to their members, appears often to
have been given less attention by Governments and international
agencies than they deserve, and consequently their potential has
not been fully utilized. Seeking farmers' views through
consultations with farmers' representative organizations, and
encouraging and supporting the latter in their efforts to provide
services to their members, are prerequisites for sustainable
rural development. The current absence of consultation of
farmers, including co-operators, by researchers, is a serious
constraint upon accumulation of relevant knowledge and successful
diffusion of innovation".

The Secretary-General recommended that "because of the importance
in many economies of revitalizing agriculture and stimulating
comprehensive rural development, the General Assembly may wish
to recommend to Member States that they should take all
appropriate measures, in collaboration with IFAP (the
International Federation of Agricultural Producers) and other
relevant international organizations, to promote and strengthen
independent representative organizations of agricultural
producers, including co-operators; to encourage their full
participation in all decision-making forums related to
agriculture; to support regional initiatives undertaken by
farmers' organizations; and to encourage more effective
partnership between farmers and agricultural researchers".

In its Programme of Action, the Summit notes that crucial and
essential requirements for its implementation will include
partnerships involving major groups as defined in Agenda 21
(farmers, represented by their own organizations, being one)
together with governments and NGOs. Support and participation by
major groups as defined in Agenda 21 is stated to be essential
to the success of the implementation of the Programme of Action.

The contribution of the private sector to social development, and
to effective implementation of the Declaration and Programme of
Action could be enhanced by enabling and encouraging farmers'
representative organizations and co-operatives to participate in
the formulation and implementation of sustainable agricultural
and rural development policies and programmes, as well as by
encouraging and facilitating the development of co-operatives,
including those among people living in poverty or belonging to
vulnerable groups.

In Chapter II of the Programme of Action, it is proposed that
opportunities for income generation, diversification of
activities and increased productivity in low-income and poor
communities should be enhanced. One means to do this is to
strengthen organizations of small farmers and community-based and
workers' co-operatives, in order to improve market access and
increase productivity, provide inputs and technical advice,
promote co-operation in production and marketing operations, and
strengthen participation in the planning and implementation of
rural development. A second means is to strengthen co-operation
among Governments, community organizations, co-operatives, formal
and informal banking institutions, private enterprises and
international agencies, with the aim of mobilizing local savings,
promoting the creation of local financial networks, and
increasing the availability of credit and market information to
small entrepreneurs, small farmers and other low-income
self-employed workers, with particular efforts to ensure the
availability of such services to women.


The role of farmers' representative organizations is to act as
guarantor of the interests of small-scale, resource-poor farmers,
articulating and transmitting their concerns and viewpoints in
a regular manner to governments and participating in the
formulation and implementation of sustainable agricultural and
rural development policies and programmes. The consensus position
of the millions of small-scale farmers worldwide is in fact
articulated by means of their local, national and international
representative organizations. Their position, stated before the
three sessions of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit,
has been reflected in the Declaration and Programme of Action.

The majority of the world's poor are in developing countries,
where they still consist mostly of small-scale, resource-poor
farmers and other rural entrepreneurs. Provision of productive
employment, eradication of poverty and social integration cannot
be expected to happen without the development of small-scale
agriculture in these countries. This cannot be achieved by
top-down programmes:  only through full recognition of farmers'
representative organizations and regular dialogue and
consultation with them, from grassroots to the national level.
Within a people-centred approach, emphasis needs to be given to
promoting infrastructural and institutional investment in the
small-scale resource-poor farming regions.  This will enable
farmers to have access to education, research and extension,
credit and markets, as well as to strengthen their own
organizations. Only then will small-scale farmers be able to play
a major role in local and national markets as productive members
of society.


The International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) is
the international organization of the world's farmers. It is a
formidable network of national farmers organizations throughout
the world, grouping together men and women of a profession which
occupies most of the world's population and most of the world's
land. The role of IFAP, established at its founding convention
in London in 1946, remains unchanged to this day, namely: "to
improve the economic and social status of all who live by and on
the land". The functions of the Federation are:

-    to act as a forum in which leaders of national farmers'
     organizations can meet to highlight mutual interests and
     take co-ordinated action to further such interests; develop
     an understanding of world problems; and exchange
     information and ideas;

-    keep members informed about international events and issues
     of concern to them as farmers organizations.

-    to act as the recognized spokesman for the world's farmers,
     bringing the concerns of agricultural producers to the
     attention of international meetings of governments, and
     other bodies.

-    to promote the creation and strengthening of independent,
     representative organizations of agricultural producers
     throughout the world.

IFAP holds the World Farmers' Congress every two years and runs
specialized activities, including IFAP Standing Committees on
Developing Countries; on Agricultural Co-operatives and on Women
in Agriculture; as well as Regional Committees e.g. for Africa
and for the Mediterranean, and Commodity Groups. IFAP also runs
a Development Programme which aims at achieving sustainable
agriculture for developing countries, through the strengthening
of farmers' organizations, and the establishment of
representation mechanisms for small-scale farmers through
regional and country projects, workshops and consultative 


Although rural production co-operatives are significant in many
countries, the predominant contribution of co-operative
enterprise to the rural economy is that of supply and marketing
co-operatives and associated credit and insurance co-operatives.
In developed market economies most independent farm enterprises
are member-owners of such enterprises. In 1993, such
co-operatives in the European Union, Austria, Finland and Sweden
had 14 million members.  Total shares of farm inputs were 55 per
cent and market share totalled 60 per cent. In Japan they handled
95 per cent of rice and 90 per cent of fisheries production. In
the United States fourteen were included in the "Fortune 500"
list of the largest corporations.  In a 1987 report to the US
Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, the Department
of Agriculture stated that "co-operatives remain the single most
effective way farmers can improve their economic circumstances.
In co-operatives farmers are dealing collectively with their 
problems and seeking solutions through organizations they create,
own, control and operate on their own behalf".

In developing market economies private sector agricultural supply
and marketing co-operatives are of major importance. Some are
concerned largely with the internal market - in India, for
example, the Anand movement comprises 57,000 dairy co-operatives
with 6,000,000 members. Co-operatives also handle most primary
commodity exports: in Kenya, they handle 100 per cent of cotton,
87 per cent of pyrethrum and 52 per cent of coffee. 

In transitional economies private sector supply and marketing
co-operatives are being set up to take over from former
parastatal and state systems. Considerable support is being given
by means of the co-operative movement's international technical
assistance programmes, and by the FAO and ILO.

In many countries agricultural supply and marketing co-operatives
have expanded into manufacture of the inputs they supply (for
example, in India they supplied 43 per cent of fertilizer in
1993).  They are also engaged in processing, wholesaling and
retailing of their produce. Savings and credit co-operatives
("credit unions"), co-operative banks and insurance
co-operatives; electricity, telephone, heating, water and
sanitation co-operatives; health co-operatives; and community
development co-operatives play an important role in many rural

This Note has been prepared jointly by the International
Co-operative Alliance and the United Nations Department for
Policy Co-ordination and Sustainable Development.  For further
information contact the ICA at 15, Route des Morillons, 1218
Grand Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 929 8888, Fax:
798 4122, E-mail:
                                                June, 1995