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Farmer co-ops, explained

Stop! Cooperate and listen to these five reasons farmer cooperatives are important to you and the world!

By Molly Mitchell July 1, 2019

Small family farms make up most of the farms worldwide, and those small-scale farmers are also stricken by poverty more often than not. That means that most of the world’s producers of our food – which is absolutely essential for all of us to live, by the way – are struggling to make ends meet.

It doesn’t make sense, and we need farmers to be able to make a living farming so that the world’s rising population can eat! That’s what farmer cooperatives are all about, and your awareness of them can help.

A farmer cooperative is basically a bunch of small-scale farmers getting together and working together to pool resources and increase their productivity and help each other earn a fair living.

Here are five reasons farmer cooperatives are great for farmers AND for you:

1.Cooperatives help end poverty

A man and woman stand with their two children in front of a wood and metal house raised on stilts.
The Chantha family once lived in a tiny shack, but now they have a tidy, handsome house thanks to being part of a cooperative.

Working together helps farmers increase profits by gaining access to bigger markets, reducing costs and gaining bargaining power. Plus, they can share equipment, get financial services (like loans), save time on marketing and access training that helps them increase the quantity and quality of their products. All of this adds up to more income for farmers and lower poverty levels among our food providers. 

2.Cooperatives cultivate equity

Cooperative meeting and offerings of dry rice for the collective savings in Bangladesh. Moina Begam weighs out her contribution of rice while the president of the group logs each of the member’s offering.
Cooperative meeting and offerings of dry rice for the collective savings in Bangladesh. Moina Begam weighs out her contribution of rice while the president of the group logs each of the member’s offering.

Cooperatives are typically run democratically and are more people-oriented. This means that all members have an equitable say and wealth is distributed more fairly. This community-based approach is part of why the cooperative set-up is more  sustainable.

3.Cooperatives build community

Cooperative members in Vietnam share a meal together.
Cooperative members in Vietnam share a meal together.

Small-scale farming can be a very isolated existence. When cooperatives are formed, members begin to trust each other, teach each other the best way to do things and form tight-knit community bonds. This mutual support is great for both productivity and the health and happiness of individual members who, in some cultures, have often been marginalized in their socities. 

4.Cooperatives help women

A woman sits in her garden and holds up one of her freshly picked vegetables.
Munni Devi, 40, is in a farming cooperative with other women in India. "If we find something good and we think we should do it, we just do it," she said of her cooperative. "We cannot be stopped."

In many places around the world, women aren’t allowed in traditional careers paths. Cooperatives create space and jobs for women to form businesses and gain access to financial services they are otherwise often cut out from. Being part of a cooperative can help a woman farmer take control of her own assets and destiny.

5.Cooperatives help YOU get local, fresh food

Fresh produce at a farmer's market
Fresh produce at a farmer's market

If you subscribe to a local CSA (community supported agriculture) program, a meal delivery box or other local food network, your ability to access local, fresh foods is probably because your local small-scale farmers have formed a cooperative. If you want to support farmer cooperatives and better food systems, check out your local cooperatives, CSAs and farmers markets!



Top photo: Samor Loeu Agricultural Cooperative members in Cambodia pose for a group shot.

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