This is great news! The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Emsden announces a landmark decision reached by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization:
…The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Tuesday reached a deal giving extended support to co-operatives, a growing force in the global economy. The FAO’s memorandum of understanding is with the International Co-Operative Alliance, a 118-year-old non-governmental organization that seeks to promote and represent producer-owned co-operatives around the world. The deal, which promises legal and policy collaboration as well as ways to “enhance the voice” of cooperatives in FAO’s governing bodies and technical committees, will give ICA’s members access to and a voice in state-level agricultural trade talks and help them benefit from FAO’s resources in agronomy, Charles Gould, ICA’s director-general, said in an interview. “It will help us advance a business model which should be a larger part of the global economy,” he said, adding the deal with FAO would be of particular help in Africa, where the co-op movement has yet to take root. Co-operatives are a larger force than many realize, especially in wealth nations, with the largest 300 such enterprises accounting for more than $2.4 trillion in combined annual revenue, and 1,478 co-op firms boasting more than $100 million in turnover. Prominent examples in the U.S. are Land O’Lakes Inc., a Minnesota-based dairy company that did $12.8 billion in sales last year, and Zen-Noh, a Japanese good producer with more than $60 billion in turnover. Many also operate in banking and insurance, with a single Brazilian health-care co-op catering to 19 million subscribers, as well as hundreds of credit unions that proved resilient during the recent global financial crisis. Next month, at its first congress to be held in Africa, ICA will publish a report with granular sector-by-sector data on the role of co-operatives today. Mr. Gould said FAO opened up to the idea because its new secretary-general, Jose Graziano da Silva, was familiar with co-ops from his stint as Brazil’s special minister for food security a decade ago. Mr. da Silva last week said FAO has designed a program whereby 120,000 students in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal are supplied school lunches by local small farmers. He also warned that food-price volatility is “here to stay,” which requires policy attention to shift to small-holders as well as vulnerable low-income populations. FAO reckons net new investments of $83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries to assure adequate food production for expected population levels in 2015. Agricultural productivity may have to double by then, according to analysts at Rome-based FAO. Achieving the underlying goals of food security and sustainable supply chains won’t be viable if only multinational corporate farming giants participate in drafting policy initiatives, Mr. Gould said.