FAO event looks at the role of cooperatives in driving responsible sourcing and sustainability-driven trade requirements

21 Mar 2023

On 15 March the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) hosted an online event to explore the key issues related to responsible sourcing and sustainability driven trade requirements. The session formed part of the FAO’s Geneva Agriculture Trade Talks, a dialogue series that began in 2018. The ICA was represented at the event by Danilo Salerno, Regional Director, ICA Americas.
In 2016 FAO and OECD launched their Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains, which provides a common framework and globally applicable benchmark to help agri-businesses and investors contribute to sustainable development by identifying and mitigating adverse impacts.
In 2022 FAO launched a report on agricultural cooperatives, responsible sourcing and risk-based due diligence, to help cooperatives understand what they can do to meet sustainability requirements in global trade.
Pascal Liu, Senior Economist, Responsible Global Value Chains Markets and Trade Division, FAO, sees the new OECD-FAO guidance as a key tool to navigate these changes.
Tomislav Ivančić, Global Advisor, Responsible Sourcing and Agricultural Supply Chains Markets and Trade Division at the FAO, said the OECD-FAO framework could help cooperatives identify, assess, mitigate and prevent impacts in their own business operations and those of their suppliers. His key recommendations included addressing management issues in cooperatives, building knowledge, introducing training and extension services, recognising due diligence as an opportunity to reduce uncertainty in business and involving other stakeholders.
Clea Kaske-Kuck, Director for Policy, Advocacy and Member Mobilization at World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) also highlighted the value of collaboration and engaging in dialogue with indirect suppliers, including cooperatives, to promote monitoring systems and traceability schemes.
“We see cooperatives offering a gateway to a community of producers,” she said.
José Antonio Hidalgo Molina, Executive Director of the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador, also talked about the important role of agricultural cooperatives in supporting small-scale farmers by giving them access to inputs, sharing new and more sustainable ways of production and understanding key statistics about their farms.
He concluded by calling on policy makers to ensure that a system of shared responsibility is coupled with any due diligence to ensure that sustainability costs are equal and fairly distributed along the supply chain, from producers to consumers.
Mascha Middelbeek from IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, shared her organisation’s experience, pointing out that cooperatives should aim to professionalise around areas related to governance, business and financial management, and human resources. This, she said, should make them more likely to adopt trade and sustainability requirements. “There is a business case for investing and professionalising cooperatives,” she added.
Danilo Salerno, Regional Director, ICA Americas, provided an overview of the importance of the agricultural sector, which accounts for over 100 of the top 300  cooperatives based on GDP ranked on the World Cooperative Monitor.
Highlighting the importance of data, he explained that most of the data collected is primarily obtained from desk research, rather than member submission. As such, cooperation with the members, international organisations and research centres is crucial to improve data collection for a comprehensive analysis and enhance actions both at national and international levels, he said.
Mr Salerno also highlighted that issues such as human rights, labour rights, health and safety, food security and nutrition are already addressed by cooperatives. He shared the example of one of ICA Americas’ projects in Costa Rica, which helps cooperatives provide education and health services to migrants from Panama or Nicaragua during the coffee season.
“We want to stress the importance of setting up partnerships to enable us to demonstrate our impact in the local community, putting into action the seventh cooperative principle of concern for community.”
He said cooperatives need investments, technical assistance, training and moving from analysis to action and more permanent partnerships with organisations such as the FAO.
Kathryn Lundquist, Statistician at the World Trade Organization, shared some of the topics discussed by the WTO’s MSME Informal Working Group, such as digitalisation, trade facilitation, sustainability standards and smallholder farmers.
The Group will launch its Small Business Champions Competition, to provide an opportunity for businesses, industry associations, chambers of commerce and non-governmental organisations to propose innovative, practical ways of helping small businesses play a more active role in world trade.  

In her concluding remarks, Marjoleine Hennis, chair of ICEF FAO Advisory Group, said all actors in the supply chain must look at how to support cooperatives in dealing with the challenges related to implementing the standards.