Strengthening cooperatives supports workers worldwide

Radhika Bolakhe, a dairy farmer near Kathmandu, Nepal, used to spend hours manually cutting feed for livestock. But after the Patikhoriya Cooperative invested in training and equipment for its more than 1,300 members, Bolakhe says she can now cut feed in 20 minutes.

“We could not afford the machinery needed to chop hay and straw on our own,” Bolakhe said. “Thanks to the support from the cooperative, my workload has now decreased and my livestock receives nutritious feed.”

With access to new tools, Bolakhe can invest increased profits in livestock and grow her business.

The Patikhoriya Cooperative in Nepal’s Kavrepalanchok District is one of more than 10,000 cooperatives and credit unions that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has strengthened around the world since 2001.

On July 3, the International Day of Cooperatives, the United Nations recognized the more than 1 billion members of cooperatives worldwide. Cooperatives exist in fields ranging from health and education to farming and finance. The jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises can help restart post-pandemic economies and increase prosperity while reducing inequality, the U.N. says.

Women in Nepal are using cooperatives to access small-scale machinery to make farming less labor intensive. (P. Love/CIMMYT)

USAID’s Cooperative Development Program and partner organizations invest in and support cooperatives in more than 35 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 2010, USAID helped a dozen women in Tanzania form the Wanawake Kwanza (Women First) growers association. In two months, the women grew enough vegetables on a 0.4-hectare plot to save $500. Their success led the village to grant them another 0.6 hectares.

Women in Tanzania work together in cooperatives to increase their farming yields and profits. (USAID Tanzania)

Working in partnership with the Global Shea Alliance, USAID has also supported cooperatives in West Africa that help women shea nut harvesters produce high-quality crops for export to food and cosmetic markets in the United States, Europe and beyond.

“I put women together. I give them skills,” says Rita Dampson, who organizes women shea nut harvesters in northern Ghana. “I empower them so they always earn something. That is my job.”

USAID and partner organizations also support coffee growers in the Peruvian Amazon. While cooperatives are vital to the region’s coffee production, farmers have struggled to increase yields using outdated agricultural techniques.

In early 2020, the National Cooperative Business Association, based in Washington, trained 20 members of the Asociación de Productores Ecológicos (Aproeco), a cooperative based in San Martin, Peru, in sustainable composting to improve soil quality and increase yields.