Before we started to elaborate the training modules, we conducted a SUMMARY REPORT and several CASE STUDIES to identify the important topics in cooperation processes and the fields in which knowledge and information are needed.
Based on these outputs we worked out the main fields in which training is needed.
The training modules give you general information about cooperation processes and you will also come across specific aspects.
We recommend you to study the modules intensively and not to rush through them. Take your time and maybe go through them several times – again and again if necessary.
Depending on your personal setting and on the individual module, you should take at least 60 minutes per module to be able to fully benefit from it.
We have created the training modules so that they can be used all over Europe and so that they can provide as much benefit to the existing variety of readers as possible.
We recommend to go through the modules step by step following the given order as the content is developed from general to more and more detail from module to module.
How to use the training modules:
Cooperation is deep-rooted in our history and evidence of informal cooperation can be traced back to hunter gather times. In Ed Mayo’s ‘A short history of cooperation and mutuality’, he discusses how hunter gathers would work together and how they eventually began developing cooperative patterns in childcare and shelter. Cooperation is defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘the action or process of working together to the same end’. The incentive for farmers to cooperate may be based on economics, but it also has other facets, such as a desire to operate more sustainably in a joined-up way, or to create a bottom-up approach to rural development.
Cooperatives are one expression of how cooperation has developed and been formalised over time. The cooperative movement has grown substantially in Europe since the 19th century and cooperatives play an important role in allowing farmers to work together in groups rather than operating as independent entities. Nowadays, cooperatives are classed as businesses that are owned by their members who have united together to meet a common goal. Cooperatives are democratically controlled and unlike traditional businesses, each member has a say in how the business is run. However, in larger cooperatives in which voting rights may be weighted, individual members’ votes may not be as strong. One in five people in Europe are members of a cooperative. Agricultural cooperatives account for more than 60% of the collection, processing, and marketing of agricultural products in Europe.
Whilst all cooperatives are different, those in agriculture are generally established for the purchase and marketing of their members’ products. The profits made from these sales are then distributed back to the members. In effect, cooperatives can create markets or give farmers better access to markets, supporting income and employment in local areas. Farmers also establish cooperatives to enable them to reduce their production costs. This could be in the form of jointly buying and maintaining machinery or buying fertiliser together for instance.
The European Union has created legal provisions to facilitate the work of cooperatives across different EU Member States. The European Cooperative Society (SCE) is an optional legal form of a cooperative which was created through the Council Regulation (EC) No 1435/2003 of 22 July 2003 on the Statute for a European Cooperative Society. It aims to facilitate cooperatives’ trans-national activities and provide a legal instrument for other companies wishing to group together to access markets, achieve economies of scale or undertake research and development activities. The statute also provides a legal instrument for other companies who wish to group together and access the markets. The SCE enables its members to carry out common activities while being able to preserve their independence.
A strong agricultural sector has been one of the main focuses of the European Union since its inception. Due to unavoidable imbalances in the trading powers between different actors in the food supply chain, there are a number of initiatives and supports at an EU-level to encourage cooperation between farmers and to support the agricultural community on the whole.
The Common Agricultural policy (CAP) is the most well-known policy at a European level that supports cooperation. The CAP consists of two pillars, the first includes direct payments in the form of annual payments to farmers that are financed entirely from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF). The second pillar concerns rural development and it aims to achieve balanced territorial development and a sustainable farming sector. Interventions under this pillar are co-financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), as well as from national contributions. The EU’s rural development policy supports rural areas to meet the wide range of economic, environmental and social challenges of the 21st century.
The EIP-AGRI (Agricultural European Innovation Partnership) was set up as a new way of helping agricultural and forestry sectors to become more productive and sustainable. The EIP-AGRI brings together innovation actors such as farmers, advisers, researchers, businesses and others at EU-level and within the rural development programmes. These work to form an EU-wide EIP network. Cooperation is supported through research and innovation partners so that the results of research and innovation activities reach farmers in the field.
Another network called the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) serves as a hub for the exchange of information on how rural development policy, programmes, projects and other initiatives are working in practice and how they may be further improved to achieve more. The main aim is to engage with individuals with an interest and commitment to rural development in Europe. The ENRD’s main objectives are to increase the involvement of stakeholders in rural development, improve the quality of rural development policies (RDPs,) and to support their development. The ENRD and EIP-AGRI networks have been connected though the European Rural Networks’ Assembly since 2015. This assembly forms a platform that aims to prioritise and coordinate the activities of the two EU networks.
The European Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems (AKIS) is another network at an EU level that is an inventory, particularly for advisory services. The system links individuals and organisations to promote mutual learning to generate, share and utilize agriculture-related technology, knowledge and information.
Cooperation is an important feature of farming systems in Europe. Cooperation between farmers has been shown to have both economic and non-economic rewards and it manifests itself in different ways in different localities throughout Europe. Reading our case studies is a good starting point to learn more learn about the many and varied ways in which farmers have found ways to cooperate.