Cooperatives: join forces to empower

Cooperatives: join forces to empower

Harmony is key to growth — whether material, spiritual, professional or intellectual. All creations of nature stay in sync with each other, and in conformity to their respective environs. In line with one theory of origin of Earth where harmony has a pivotal role, the 17th century poet John Dryden says, “From harmony, from Heavenly harmony, this universal frame began”.

Aligned with creativity, goodwill, bliss and equity, harmony paves way for healthy growth of individuals and nations by building sustainable, strong relationships. The urge to overly accumulate for oneself seriously impinges on harmony since it deprives many others in need.

Convergence of political, industrial, religious, money or other powers in a few hands inhibits democratic process and free thinking. Income disparities, already so glaring, have touched new heights. In India, just 1% of people own around 73% of the country’s total assets; globally it is 55%. Worse, the rich-poor gap is continuously widening. In many countries, the lure of equality in income and control of assets triggered vast populations to embrace socialism. Economic inequalities must not continue in democratic set up.

Cooperative movement came to the fore to crack the monopoly of a few, who were opposed to sharing the resultant accumulation of materials, resources, assets and money with them.

A cooperative enterprise that anyone can join irrespective of caste, creed or gender, can serve as an effective modality to prevent concentration of economic power, collective ownership of resources and liquidation of poverty. It is capable of generating employment and fostering active involvement of people in development activities.

By bridging inequalities, cooperatives empower people and offer them a dignified and sustainable way of livelihood. Unlike a private enterprise, cooperatives are socio-economic organisations not driven by profit but by the aim to help the poor sections of the society and create social harmony.

Agricultural cooperatives

Rural India has had a vibrant tradition of cooperative farming. In my own experience in Uttarakhand hills till the 1990s, when villages were well populated, during the sowing season one could observe several neighbourhood women assemble early morning at a particular household. They would be offered a heavy breakfast after which they would disburse the manure accumulated over months to the host’s fields. Turn by turn, the fields of other households would be covered.

Recognising the vital role of cooperatives in economic, social and cultural development, the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), the apex non-profit body formed in 1895, promotes the cooperative model worldwide. It strengthens and extends partnerships between global cooperative movements and other
agencies, including governments. Since small farmers contribute to 80% of the world food supplies, about 30% of the 300 largest cooperatives in world are in the agriculture and food industry sector as reported by ICA.

Throughout the world, agricultural cooperatives have played a significant role in organising small farmers. So far, agricultural cooperatives have focused on lending for farming operations. The Indian cooperative movement, the world’s largest with more than 8 lakh cooperatives, has made significant strides. The IFFCO, KRIBHCO, AMUL, etc. have benefitted millions of farmers. Aavin, Anyonya, Indian Coffee House, SEWA, KMF Lijjat Papad, etc are among other reputed units in the cooperative fold.

Here’s an example of how cooperatives deliver — a household in Uttar Pradesh sparing just a litre of surplus milk can sell it at the nearby booth of a milk plant. What people seem to lack is the minimum use of digital technology and appropriate training in growing, conserving, storing and marketing of farm produce. It is time some training infrastructure is created by cooperatives not only for their own employees but also for children in institutions and the rural youth in particular towards making them employable or self-employed.

The cooperatives also need to expand their focus from agriculture into other areas, like running regular technical courses in demand. Honeybee production, seaweed farming, etc are other areas that can be the focus of cooperatives, besides honing farmers’ skills in different farming operations, use of improved tools and application of fertilisers for more remunerative returns.

The success of cooperation works on the principle that one plus one equals more than two, as in a battery. As anyone can vouch, two batteries clubbed together yield more power than the sum total power of each. Napoleon Hill refers to formation of a ‘third’ mind, an entity with magical capacities, when two minds with a single objective work in unison. Bertrand Russell went to the extent of declaring, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”