Thursday, June 17, 2010

July 17 - Ministry of Agriculture- Development and Cooperatives

My first meeting today was with the Ministry of Agriculture's Secretary of Agriculture Development and Cooperatives. We started with many questions on what is a cranberry, how is it grown, .... The challenge is that cranberry and vine do not translate to Portuguese. After a bag of Craisins and, of course, coffee, we had a wonderful discussion of some very exciting work they are doing here.

We discussed the history of the cooperative structure in Brazil. Cooperatives started 100 years ago in Brazil. In the 1930's, the government role with cooperatives was to inspect the principles of the structure. 1950-1960s, the government formed a bank to lend money to producers and help cooperatives. The mid-1960s-1988 the government increased its influence with cooperatives to move farmers forward. However in 1988, the new Constitution stopped the Government from intervening with cooperatives. The government no longer provided funding to cooperatives but provided (and still does) training and technical assistance (production methods, exporting information, research) to the cooperative members. In 1998, SESCOOP was formed.
SESCOOP is a private organization funded with some public monies (retirement fund monies) to help form cooperatives of small producers. Most of these cooperatives are found in the South of Brazil while the North, Northeast and the Amazon have the fewest number of cooperatives.

Today some new changes approved by Congress (Cooperativism Plan for Brazil) have allowed the Government a more active role with cooperatives. This plan looks at agricultural cooperatives and non - agricultural such as banking, housing, health care, and transportation.

In Agriculture, the Government would like to strengthen the cooperatives so that they can improve the trade and economic sustainability for their producers. A new National Program has experienced tremendous success with its two parts:
  1. Gender Cooperatives - initiating women to form cooperatives - currently women mainly work in the production work (cleaning, packing)
  2. Youth Cooperatives - bringing in a new farming generation

The approach of this program is customized to each region and its cultural and traditional differences. Between 2004-2009, the Gender Cooperative program has educated 26,000 women directly and 64,000 indirectly. This program has received international awareness for its great results and being the only cooperative program in the world to be dedicated to women cooperatives. The Ministry feels that bringing women into the cooperative model through education and decision making skills will help resolve some of the challenges of cooperatives. The main problem being the lack of control with ethics, financial participation and long term decision making.

The youth program has had such a large impact that they have privatized the program and have brought it into schools and offer a prize for students to form successful models sponsored by Banco Brazil.

The Ministry focuses on two important goals: social sustainability - creating jobs; and economic sustainability -helping create markets and profits. They shared the example of a Dutch cooperative operating in Brazil called Holambra, in flower production, that incentives the development of new cooperatives from generation to generation in a family. They help the next generation form their own cooperative and move into more rural areas where land is more readily available at a reasonable price. This type of development has led to improved infrastructure and an education system in these rural areas. As the government continues to struggle with education, the help these cooperatives provide is critical.

I will be interested to look at the long term success of the cooperatives in Brazil and what the government role will be.

Holambra Cooperative - (as mentioned above) Holambra is a farming and stock-rearing co-operative whose land, with a total area of 15,000 hectares/37,500 acres, extends over the communes of Jaguariúna, Cosmópolis, Artur Nogueira and Santo Antìnio da Posse. It was founded by Dutch immigrants who settled in Brazil in 1948. Combining hundreds of production units under a single roof, the co-operative was able to grow into the largest exporter of plants in Brazil. It also rears sheep, cattle and pigs and grows citrus fruits and grain.

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