Unleashing the power of Farmers’ Co-ops in China

08 October 2010 | News story

IUCN China and Nokia have been supporting the creation of farmers’ cooperatives to connect Chinese farmers living in remote areas to regional and national agricultural markets. 

 Since 2009, IUCN has been organizing training courses in farmers’ cooperative for villagers in Huayuan and Xiaowopu, two Livelihoods and Landscape Strategy (LLS) project sites in northern China. Sponsored by Nokia, the training courses introduce the laws and regulations related to farmers’ cooperatives, and help participants understand their potential to improve their livelihoods options. In the next phase, the project will focus on strengthening local capacity for livelihoods improvement and grassroot-level self-governance.

In Huayuan, a village 150 km northeast of Beijing with less than 700 residents, villagers are pooling their resources together to form various farmers’ co-ops. They have created a small miracle that not only doubles their income, but also brings the community closer together.

Farmers’ cooperatives enable farmers to pool their resources together for buying and selling agricultural products with greater bargaining power. It also gives them better access to bank loans, and rights for striking business contracts. It places them on a more leveled playing field with business companies. Yet perhaps more importantly, it enables communities to improve their livelihoods collectively, and helps build stronger capacity of self governance.

Nokia and IUCN China have joined forces to improve local knowledge of watershed management in Miyun County - an area that Beijing relies on for its water supply. This collaborative project aims to promote better watershed management through a succession of environmental campaigns in Miyun County.

“Through this collaboration we want to support sustainable water management in the area and also help generate opportunities and possibilities to the rural population for better and more sustainable livelihoods,” says Outi Mikkonen from Sustainability Operations team at Nokia. The company has a substantial workforce based in the Beijing area and it has joined in local efforts that benefit both biodiversity and people.

In 2001, Mrs. Yu Guifen and 17 other households formed an aquaculture co-op in Huayuan Village. Mobilizing local resources and innovation, they initiated the use of running stream water and salt for disinfection (rather than antibiotics), and built green-house shelters to keep the fish warm in harsh Northern China winters. The “Guifen Aquaculture Co-op” is widely supported by the community as most people involved hold a share in the business. Poorer households could join the cooperative by granting the Co-op exclusive rights to use their land as a substitute of cash payment. The Co-op dividend in 2009 was as high as 8,000 RMB (1,100 USD). For many Co-op members, this business doubles their annual income.