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Supporting Farmers Globally: Celebrating the UN International Day of Cooperatives (6 July 2013)

by Gregg S. Johnson, member of Board of Directors, Global Partnerships, a nonprofit impact investment organization based in Seattle, WA

On July 6, we celebrate and honor the small holder farmers from around the globe in recognition of the UN’s International Day of Cooperatives. Nearly 500 million families make their living from small-scale rural farms in the developing world. That’s more than the entire population of the U.S. These farmers support 2 billion people and “account for 97% of the world’s agricultural holdings,” yet most don’t have access to the resources, information and commercial markets needed to improve their own lives. Cooperatives play an important role in bridging that access gap.

In April, I was reminded of the dedication and hard work of these rural agricultural communities when I traveled to Latin America with Global Partnerships (GP). We got a chance to meet María Montenegro Chavarría who owns a small vegetable farm in rural Nicaragua. She obtains working capital through GP’s partner, Aldea Global, a fair trade & organic cooperative in Jinotega, Nicaragua.  But more importantly, through Aldea Global, she gains access to commercial markets to sell her broccoli and celery. This is because Aldea Global connects small-scale farmers like María and her husband, Edwin, to commercial retailers, who can pay much better prices for her produce than the local markets. Seeing a small-holder farmer like María get access to the global marketplace reminded me of how connected our world truly is. Expanding her farm will help increase the opportunities available to her and her 5 children including better education, increased income, and health.

After talking with María, I came away with a couple of thoughts:

  1. In countries with unstable currency, wealth is built by immediately investing any working capital into hard assets such as equipment, land, livestock, crops and agricultural inputs. This translates into multiple cycles of borrowing and repayment that allow both wealth accumulation and greater access to credit to finance equipment or land purchases to help them expand their farms over time. Smart business people like María can leverage credit to effectively grow their business and increase assets over time.
  2. Access to capital is not enough. When investments are supplemented by training and technical assistance, it can make a big difference between a farmer who lives from loan to loan and a farmer that is able to grow a sustainable business. Increasing quality and yields of crops and access to markets will significantly boost a family’s income and thus, provide them with more opportunities to help them improve their own lives well into the future.

This brings me back to the role of cooperatives in helping to bridge the access gap. Cooperatives play an essential role in connecting small-holder farmers with the technical assistance, commercial markets, and information they need to improve their own lives. Global Partnerships invests in cooperatives that not only help provide access to capital but also provide access to the many other resources and information small-holder farmers need to lift themselves out of poverty. 


  1. Get more information about GP’s work with cooperatives
  2. Remember: July 6, 2013 is UN International Day of Cooperatives (recognized on the 1st Saturday of July)
  3.  Support organizations that help farmers like María. 

Gregg S. Johnson is the founder of Johnson Consulting Associates, LLC. Gregg provides senior-level advisory & coaching services to a variety of for-profit & nonprofit organizations. In his not-for-profit engagements, Gregg has served a large variety of social enterprises in strategy development, business planning, and interim executive roles. Prior to starting his company, Gregg was a senior executive at Starbucks Coffee Company for over thirteen years, where he led the implementation of their worldwide operations.

Blog Tags: agriculture   cooperatives   fair trade   farmers   Latin America   supply chain   sustainability   value chain   

Maria Montenegro Chavarria, a vegetable farmer from Nicaragua and client of GP's partner, Aldea Global.
María Montenegro Chavarría is an Aldea Global client who earns a living growing vegetables and selling them to the global market. Through Aldea Global, one of GP’s partners, she has access to large, corporate retailers like Walmart, who purchase vegetables from farmers like María. © 2013 Global Partnerships

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