Co-operative series: Part 1 – What is co-operation?


Notes to broadcasters

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Content: By working together, farmers can make a better living from their farms. If farmers join together to buy their seed and fertilizer in bulk, they can get a better price. By building storage facilities and sharing them, farmers can store their crops when the market price is low, and sell them when the market price is higher. When people work together in groups like this, the group is often called a co-operative, and there are some basic rules farmers should follow when starting a co-operative.

Special note:

This is the first in a series of scripts about forming and operating a co-operative. This script may be used on its own to stimulate discussion about co-operation, or it may be used with the scripts which will follow in subsequent DCFRN packages. It may also be used as an introduction or as a postscript to the drama script which follows in this package.


There is an old story in southern Africa that teaches an important lesson about co-operation. It goes like this:

“A man had four quarrelsome children. He was about to die, and he did not want to leave them in a state of hatred for each other. So he called them to his bedside and gave each of them a stick. He asked each of them to break the stick, which they easily managed. The old man then produced a bundle of four sticks tied together, and asked them to break the bundle as they had broken their individual sticks. None of them could. In a weak but calm voice the old man told them, ‘I will soon be gone and I want you to remember this. You cannot face the hardships of life if you are divided the way you are now. If you cannot live in harmony as brothers and sisters, your enemies will break you as easily as you broke those single sticks I have just given you. As the sticks are strong only as a bunch, you are strong only in unity.’ The old man then died, but his four children remembered and followed the wisdom of their father’s last words.”

The moral of this story is that by working together, we can achieve more than we can on our own. Like sticks that are stronger in a bundle, you can solve many of your farming problems by working together with other farmers.

Let us look at some examples of problems you face as a farmer, and ways co-operating with other farmers can help solve your problems.

As a farmer, you work hard, but sometimes all that work is not well-rewarded. You have very little money to show for all your hard work. If you cannot save your seeds from your last harvest, you will have to purchase them. Buying seeds and fertilizers in small quantities is expensive. You can save yourself back-breaking labour and save time if you use well-made tools, but these cost a lot of money too. So even if you have a good harvest, the money you make from it might just barely cover the cost of the seeds, fertilizers, and tools you need to grow your crops.

If you do not have a way to store your harvest, or you are not able to transport it to the nearest market, you will probably have to sell it at a low price. A middleman may offer you a low price and take it to market to resell at a high price. Other people will take all the profit of your labour.

The solution to your problems could be co-operation: to work together as a group. What if you got together with other farmers in your village? For example, you could get together to purchase seed in bulk. As a group, you will be able to purchase good quality seed at a wholesale price and then together you can re-bag it into smaller quantities. By purchasing seeds together, you might try negotiating a good group price for fertilizer. By these simple means, you might realize a larger profit on your harvest.

There are many creative ways to work together. As the group develops, you could discuss ideas for joint storage and marketing. In a less busy time, each farmer may agree to contribute three days labour to a project to build a storage hut that you can all use. By building storage facilities and sharing them, you can store your crops when the market price is low, and sell them when the market price is highest. In this way, your crops will not all go to market when the demand for them is the lowest, but when the demand is highest. One member of the group could be selected to take all the farmers’ product to market and avoid using the middleman. In this way, all farmers will share in the higher prices.

Like the bundle of sticks, by co-operating with other farmers you can find strength in unity.

When people work together in groups like this, the group is called a co-operative, but whatever you choose to call it, there are certain things to keep in mind when you begin your own co-operative.

We have been talking about a farmers’ co-operative that is set up to help farmers grow, store, and market their produce. After you have established your produce co-operative, you can look at other ways to work together to improve your lives. But it is important to take it one step at a time. And the first step for you, if you want to start a co-operative, is to get together with your neighbours, decide what you all need the most, and then work together to make sure you get it.

Information sources

Mary Lou Morgan, consultant for the Canadian Co-operative Association.