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Co-operation among co-operatives beyond discourse

For several years now NCBA CLUSA International has practiced the co-operative principle of “Cooperation Among Co-operatives”, connecting co-operatives of the United States with other cooperatives in different corners of the world. CoopsAmericas Newsletter interviewed Stanley Kuehn, Regional Director of NCBA CLUSA for Latin America and the Caribbean, to learn more about the experiences conducted by the organization and his views on the possibility of increasing this type of co-operative links.

What is the role of NCBA CLUSA in developing trade among cooperatives?

NCBA CLUSA approach is founded on the belief that its beneficiaries should be the decision-makers when dealing with the development issues of their communities. In order to do this, they must have the power to articulate and design locally-generated, sustainable solutions. The role of NCBA CLUSA International consists in contributing to these processes of empowerment by enhancing the organizational capacity of co-operatives and other entities, through training in analytical, problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills, as well as intensive community-based entrepreneurial and democratic governance training.

How do you measure the impact on the co-operatives that participate in these trade modalities?

And, what are some of the most outstanding indicators of this impact? NCBA CLUSA International uses several indicators to assess the impact on the co-operatives that participate in the initiatives, including:

■ the number of co-operatives that have signed a memorandum of understanding;

■ the monetary value of the business volume conducted by the co -operatives that receive support;

■ the number of farmers that have adopted new technologies;

■ the number of new members joining these business associations;

■ the growth of markets and of the customer base (developing countries are the main source of global demand and agricultural trade growth)

■ the availability of domestic products throughout the year, both for the United States and for other markets.

How can the sustainability of this impact be extended and reinforced?

When the organizations or individuals take active participation in the processes that affect their futures, the outputs of their production reflect more adequately their own needs and interests. In turn, this drives investment and participation while leading to a higher impact. The empowerment, and the commitment to a co-operative (that is a result of this process of participatory design and development) constitute a significant contribution to future sustainability and success. By incorporating intellectual capital and participation through strategic partnerships among cooperatives a positive and lasting impact is achieved.

Concerning demand, do retail and supermarket co-operatives in the United States have an unmet demand for agricultural products, foodstuff and other goods produced in Latin America? And, in this context, is it a valid option to seek co-operative suppliers among United States co-operatives?

Yes, there is an unmet demand in United States co-operatives, since they tend to face certain business challenges that they must learn to overcome:

■ they perceive entry in Latin American markets as too risky;

■ they often face highly complicated procedures;

■ there is a risk of facing corruption instances;

■ costs tend to be high;

■ it is often hard to identify an adequate local partner;

■ there are cultural and language barriers;

■ the entrepreneurial skills of foreign partners are often limited.

About the products, what are the most important requirements that agricultural or agribusiness cooperatives of the producing countries must take into account?

Co-operatives must take into account several requirements. They need to ensure:

■ they offer high quality, organic and/or fair trade products;

■ they have attractive labels and high-quality packaging;

■ they have adequate production levels;

■ they market their products appropriately;

■ they have access to credit and certifications;

■ there is strong leadership in the co-operative to manage all these requirements.

The development of trade among co-operatives has a long history in fair trade or other modalities. What is the value for NCBA CLUSA of the lessons drawn from alternative forms of North-South trade?

We have been successful in giving shape to experiences of collaboration with co-operatives, or intermediaries that operate on the basis of co-operative values. With the development of a sustainable economy, these alternative forms of trade allow co-operatives from developing countries to capture a higher added value from trade, and strengthen their capacity to increase the revenues of their members. And provides buyers with access to new, healthy products, and the chance to learn from experiences conducted in developing countries.

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