And the Focus of World Food Day 2012 is… Agricultural Cooperatives?

Agricultural Cooperatives:
Key to Feeding the World.
© FAO, 2012

Each year since 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations calls on everyone to celebrate the 16th of October in honor of World Food Day. Since 1981, World Food Day has adopted a new theme each year (aside for 1981 and 1982, both of which were “food comes first,” and rightly so). Revealed in the Spring, the theme is meant to raise general awareness and understanding of approaches to ending hunger, and observed by over 150 countries across the world. Over 30 years later the FAO has continued its yearly custom, and the focus of World Food Day 2012 is… agricultural cooperatives?

“Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world” may not resonate clearly with everyone, at least not immediately. But the topic of cooperatives deserves highlighting – put forth is more than a solution to hunger, but a social enterprise, and one that puts people before profit, and has the capacity to turn any practice into something community-building, fair, and sustainable.

A cooperative, loosely defined, is a commercial organization, uniting citizens for joint production of agricultural produce in the framework of a unified enterprise. Such enterprises aim to overcome the difficulties experienced by most small farmers:  removal from national/international markets, high-quality inputs (high cost of seeds and fertilizer; difficult obtaining a loan), and lack of transport/proper infrastructure. The reasoning behind this – 70 percent of people suffering from hunger live in agriculture-dependent, rural areas.

But is food really the focus of World Food Day 2012?

Soviet Union as an Example
Under Stalin’s regime, the Soviet Union experienced forced collectivization of farming and the subsequent rise of two systems:  collective farms (kolkhozes) that were handed to farmers rent-free (and paying members according to work contributed), and state farms (sovkhozes) that were directed and financed by the government. With  lack of incentive to work under the socialist system, productivity among farmers dropped, as did wages. Many citizens turned to private, household farming, where 3 percent of the total sown area in 1980 produced over a quarter of agricultural output. A sign of desperate times, but also a clear example of the extreme capabilities of people once they see results from their labor. People still question, “When in Russia will potatoes be replaced by flowers on the household plot?”

After the fall of communism, collective and state farms were given the option to reorganize into farming cooperatives, under which workers would hold shares in the farms and be responsible for managing the enterprise. In this sense, a cooperative is not just a method of food production, but a social enterprise that promotes peace and democracy.

On World Food Day 2012, let us celebrate peace, democracy, and the elimination of health disparities. With this mindset, the eradication of world hunger should only come naturally.


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