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UN: Agricultural Cooperatives Key to Eliminating Hunger

Nearly 1 billion undernourished

- Common Dreams staff

Nearly 1 in 7 people worldwide suffers from undernourishment as the United Nations and Oxfam America mark the 33rd World Food Day today, hoping to raise awareness of global poverty and hunger.

Photo: FAO/Desirey Minkoh/FAO Nine hundred million people are hungry, even though the means to eliminate that hunger exist.

This year, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and Oxfam America, along with 150 countries and 450 organizations in the US alone, are focusing on the theme "Agricultural cooperatives—the key to feeding the world," hoping to encourage support for the democratically-operated organizations that provide 100 million jobs and include an estimated 1 billion members.

Cooperatives in such industries as agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock "start when a group of people believe in themselves and get organized," according to the FAO. "From that spark a fire starts."

Owned by the employees, members of agricultural cooperatives pool resources and share the costs and benefits of running a business. They are able to secure better prices, group purchasing power and marketing, and more immune to economic downturns.

“There are many examples of co-ops and they take away the hierarchies that make it difficult to create a quality of life,” Madeleine Van Engel, a baker-owner at Arizmendi, a cooperative bakery in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Jezra Thompson of Civil Eats.

"Co-operatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue economic stability and social responsibility," UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said.

In 1976, nomadic herders of West Africa stopped selling their animals through traditional traders and formed self-managed livestock markets, according to the FAO.
Sales increased and herders' incomes rose, prompting them to form larger and larger networks.

In 2001, all of the country of Benin's traditional herding communities formed a professional organization, and "the impact has been impressive," the FAO reported.

The herders' union convinced the state to recognize its duty to protect livestock against major diseases. Cattle vaccination became mandatory and simultaneous: almost half a million animals were vaccinated in June 2007 alone. Pharmacies, nurseries and fodder banks have been set up. Between 2004 and 2007, union officials mediated amicable settlements in 53 conflicts, mainly over damage by animals to farmers' fields and thefts of livestock. Cooperation has clearly turned the herders of Benin into a force to be reckoned with.

The FAO calls on universities and business schools to provide training and education about sustainable agriculture production techniques, and on governments, non-governmental organizations and research institutions to also provide assistance.

"We have more power as individuals than we realize to change things," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "World Food Day is the moment to seize this power and demand changes that will reduce inequality, fight hunger and help build a world where everyone has enough to eat now and in the future."

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