Sustainable Development and the Role of Cooperatives
20 November, 2012 -- Cooperatives are member-driven business enterprises in which decisions balance the pursuit of profit with the needs and interests of members and their communities. One billion people are now members of cooperatives worldwide.
“As a strong partner in development, the cooperative movement works with the United Nations every day to empower people, enhance human dignity and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In seeing the potential for cooperatives to amplify efforts for sustainable socio-economic development, the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. Governments, civil society and representatives of cooperatives, from various sectors, met recently at United Nations Headquarters to mark the closing of the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC) under the theme “Promoting Cooperatives Beyond 2012.”
Cooperatives have been found to generate significant financial turnover, despite turbulent economic times. The world's top 300 cooperatives register a combined revenue equivalent to the ninth largest national economy. In India, cooperatives have made the country the largest milk producing nation in the world. In Spain, the cooperative Mondragon represents approximately 8 per cent of the country’s GDP. The cooperative movement in Japan shifted resources to help deliver goods to the most affected areas from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
With the occurrence of natural disasters, or, extreme weather, as well as concerns about energy scarcity, the world faces serious threats to its food supplies, especially when considering that the global population will rise to 9 billion by 2050. With this in mind, the closing of the IYC at the United Nations began with an interactive panel discussion on global food security and the role of cooperatives as a viable model, especially for small farms in Africa and Asia. “We are facing increasing geographical imbalance between food production and consumption, growing scarcity of natural resources and even more extreme weather conditions in the coming decades,” said Mr. Vincent Lokin, Executive Director Cooperative Banking and Sustainability, Rabobank. A theme from the closing of the IYC was that the key to sustainable consumption and production and food security lies with cooperatives and small holder farms.
According to the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, cooperatives help small farmers access the global market by making input costs for production as well as transportation costs for goods more affordable for people working poor communities. During the 2007-2008 food crisis, farmers member to agricultural cooperatives were able to deal with the food crisis much better than those not operating within cooperatives, according to FAO.
In her address at the closing of the IYC, Shamshad Akthar, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic Affairs, said that “As a tried-and-tested approach to social enterprise, cooperatives deliver inclusive development, social protection and sustainable livelihoods in a manner that contributes to poverty eradication.”
The Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs organized the event in collaboration with the International Labour Organization, the Permanent Mission of Mongolia, and Rabobank.