Co-ops do more than provide access to larger markets, fairer trading practices and security: they also benefit the people and communities that invest in them.
Thailand’s Sarapi-Chok Chai co-op was launched in the late 1970s, and has grown rapidly to include over 3,000 rice farmers. One of the first to join was Paeo, who comments: “The co-op helps with marketing and it has more bargaining power with traders. It’s more economic than people just doing their own thing. I earn more through it.” Sarapi-Chok Chai has been Fairtrade-certified for over five years, and is planning to spend its premium on a range of community projects, including improving its rice storage facilities and setting up a scholarship fund to help children attend the local primary school. With successes like that, it’s no surprise that a further 3,500 farmers have expressed interest in joining.
Across the Pacific, the advantages of working co-operatively have been tried and tested by Chilean beekeepers since 1980. They set up Apicoop to increase the market reach of their honey, and in 2007 diversified into blueberries with support from the fair trade organisation, Traidcraft. Three years later, Apicoop began supplying blueberries to The Co-operative – which is now helping it build more capacity, and supporting it to strengthen its influence in the supply chain, reduce its environmental impact and improve workers’ welfare. Practical steps include building a packhouse, which will help with quality control and should lead to greater profits. Overall, the improvements are expected to touch the lives of 20,000 people. - Simon Birch