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Mr. Willem Paulus

 

Given your thesis on the subject of member involvement, what do you think is the key role member involvement plays in a co-operative?

 

A: Commitment is the reason for the existence of farmer organizations. Commitment comes in many forms like financial, normative, narrative and calculative; and plays a crucial in an organization. The concept of internal capitalization is that farmers start investing not only in their own farms, but also in the co-operative. They understand and see the opportunity for the co-operative to establish, for example, a processing factory which will add value to the products being processed, and remember, these products have been procured from members’ farms. Such factories are expensive to establish but, with members coming together and collecting funds it becomes easier to build one. It’s also a two-way process as farmers will be more willing to invest in their co-operative if its strong, there is trust, good business model and good governance at the Board. So that’s what we at Agriterra try to do - help co-operatives with their business plan, financial management, governance and human resources management.

 

How did you come to study and conduct research on co-operatives?

 

A: I have always found the organizational form of co-operatives very interesting because it has a business and to a certain extent a social angle to it. It’s not only 100% profit driven but it’s also really about thinking about how it can add value to what members are doing. At the end of the day, what co-operatives do is serve the demands and needs of their members. I see co-operatives as a very good model to boost development. Many economies that are still developing are also mostly agrarian. Even Netherlands was completely agrarian at one point, and then farmers started coming together, (quite similar to Sri Lanka now), and forming co-operatives. They started investing and nurturing them and today we have billion-dollar corporations like Friesland Campina, Rabobank etc. It’s interesting to note that organizations like Friesland Campina have a large part of their turnover coming from outside Netherlands, but are still very much owned by the Dutch farmers. It’s because the farmers realized that if they didn’t invest outside their borders, their co-operatives would not be competitive in a globalizing world, with competition posed by countries like China. Also, Netherlands is much smaller when compared to other countries, so we need to look outwards.

 

You are currently working for Agriterra in Nepal. What is your perception about the strengths and challenges of agriculture co-operatives in Nepal?

 

A: Co-operatives in Nepal need to make a more consistent and committed attempt at freeing themselves from the mind-set that restricts them to the ‘Donor Agenda’. What’s really lacking is farmers, farmer leaders and Board members taking initiative to set up factories, value-adding activities/services to members, and also really promoting their members interest. Secondly, most of the farmers in Nepal are farmers by default as it’s a way of survival. The productivity of these famers is really low because they are cultivating in hilly areas which are not necessarily suitable for large agricultural output. The government should make sure that farmers remain lead actors in development and support those famers who are really taking initiative. Financial crunch is not the issue here as we have cases where the government’s fund to support farmers remains underspent, as nobody is coming forward with good proposals. As organizations working towards building the of capacity of farmers, we should advise them in such a way that its doesn’t become hand-holding but help become more productive through innovative techniques. I believe ICA can potentially be a very strong source to facilitate exchange of knowledge, as it is best suited to advise Board members, managers, especially in countries where such knowledge is not easily accessible. We believe that this works because, since 1997 Agriterra has been transferring expertise from the Dutch co-operative sector to different countries. I have seen that when I  personally try to advise a farmer, it may not necessarily land, but if a Manager from Friesland Campina or let’s say Amul advises a dairy co-operative in Nepal, that knowledge or inspiration is really motivating to them.