Building cooperative capacity in smallholder farming communities


    To mark International Day of Cooperatives, Olam’s Global Head of CR&S - Social Capital & Livelihoods, Julie Greene took the hot seat on Twitter and responded to questions by cooperative assessment company Scope Insight, on ‘Farmer Cooperatives and the Importance of Professionalism’. 


    1. How are you working with cooperatives?

    We source much of our products (cocoa, coffee, cotton, nuts etc.) from ~13,000 partner co-ops in the developing world. We support the co-ops and their ½mn members with agricultural, literacy, financial & leadership training to improve yields, incomes & well-being.

    2. What role do cooperatives play in achieving your business and CSR objectives?

    As part of our purpose to ‘Re-imagine Global Agriculture and Food Systems’ we are working to transform farmer livelihoods. Co-ops enable us to invest more in farmers – with training, access to credit - due to better communication channels and collaboration between members.

    They also play a key role in driving equality, innovation & behaviour change in rural communities. For instance, in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, we helped cocoa cooperatives to develop gender action plans for inclusion of women and support for food crops and other income generating activities.

    Another example is in Tanzania, where we worked with farmer associations to create savings groups, whereby they pool resources for rotating loans to group members. 

    3. Why are professional cooperatives important for Olam?

    Cooperatives offer the benefit of only having to deal with a single counterpart in terms of payments, legal processes and support infrastructure. This means that we can be more ambitious in providing support and innovative solutions for smallholders and rural development.

    4. How do you work on professionalising cooperatives?

    In our cocoa and cotton supply chains in Côte d’Ivoire we’re working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Scope Insight to assess cooperatives’ leadership skills and give targeted training and coaching.  Better managed co-ops can provide better services to their members like access to inputs at lower prices, access to markets, and a collective voice.

    5. How can cooperatives create rural employment?

    In many countries co-ops are triggering rural development by initiating and conducting community needs assessments, or identifying opportunities and approaching partners to help make it happen.

    10-12 million youth enter the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa each year and need viable, sustainable livelihoods. Co-ops can facilitate successful agri-preneurship by connecting young farmers to resources and mentorship. 

    Access to land is a challenge for youth. In our Côte d’Ivoire cotton business, we work with co-ops to encourage them to provide youth groups with a land parcel. Then, with our partners, give the youths life skills (using a tablet), ag training and inputs.

    6. What can cooperatives do to promote fair labor practices for employees and farm workers?

    Co-ops can train and monitor members on fair labour practices – such as working hours, safety, pay, minimum age.) We sensitise co-ops on fair labour through our Supplier Code and as a Fair Labour Association participating company, we work to establish internal monitoring systems.

    7. What should be a company’s role in promoting a decent farmer income through cooperatives?

    We can help coops identify and access the best quality seeds, inputs, finance, and best practices, to help boost farmers’ yields, quality, market access and income diversification. In some cases, we can help co-ops access premiums when they provide specialty, traceable products. 

    8. What is the role of the cooperatives in stimulating good agricultural practices whilst improving yield and the quality of the produce?

    Co-ops offer a hub for investment in resource centres and training - the first formal education many smallholders will have received. Identifying the engaged farmers and supporting them to be leaders then provides other farmers with role models and confidence in the new methods

    Take the somewhat counterintuitive practice of pruning back trees to increase yields; we rely on model farms and demo plots to allow farmers to see for themselves that the trees start to flourish, ultimately leading to a higher income. 

    9. How important is it to you to have transparency in your supply chain?

    Transparency is crucial to fulfilling Olam’s purpose of ‘Re-imagining Global Agriculture’. To go beyond incremental improvements and transform supply chains, we need to be able to track and report on the progress of our sustainability goals and science-based targets

    AtSource is our one-stop data shop providing customers with the social, economic and environmental footprints of their ingredients at each stage of the supply chain. The insight also identifies opportunities for quick, targeted interventions. Find out more here:

    10. How do our tools help with professionalism at the Co-op level and transparency in the supply chain?

    The tools allow a detailed assessment of the level of coop professionalism, evaluating areas including internal management, sustainability, market access and external risks. This makes us aware of the areas for improvement and where to target for coaching and training.


    Read the full conversation on Twitter here.

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