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Successful cooperatives- owned, managed by farmers

It is essential that co-operatives should be owned and operated by the people. Government can be a facilitator only, creating the enabling environment. Given a chance, Netherlands can work with the co-operatives in India and share its knowledge in making them successful, says Wouter Verhey, Agriculture Counsellor, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in India, in a special interview to SMART AGRIPOST.

 Could you tell us briefly about Cooperatives in Netherlands?

Ans: Co-operatives in Netherland started somewhere around 1850. And actually there was a very enabling environment for the co-operatives. Farmers also were quite in need of organizing themselves, they were under a lot of pressure, so there was a big need to organize, and they did. We have our main co-operatives in dairy, vegetables, fruits. They are the main co-operatives and then the finance and banks, of course.

Are the cooperatives viable and sustainable? How do they operate?

 Ans: I think most important aspect is that co-operatives came to exist with farmer’s initiative, so it was not government’s initiative. That made them strong. The farmers were really part of the co-operatives; they decided on the policy, they were part of the board of the co-operatives. So the fact it grew from the ground and not from the top. It was an essential factor. It has to come from the farmers themselves, they have to own it. Ownership is crucial for sustainability.

Do you mean that government is not interfering, or giving any financial support?

Ans: Of course, there are facilities for co-operatives, but no subsidies or something like that. But the Co-operative laws are written in such a way that it regulates the formation and functions of co-operatives.

How do the cooperatives create market linkages for themselves? Do they need support from Government?

Ans:  Yes , the most important thing was that they were not conservative, they were quite liberal, they were open to the world market, so they did not ask for all kinds of protection, and I must say in Netherlands working together is in the genes of the people.

They were willing to share the risks, the burden and the knowledge needed, and were loyal to their co-operatives. That’s something part of the culture, which made it easier for the cooperatives, to grow and to be stable.

What is the scope of cooperatives in India?

Ans:  In India, what I see is, it should come from the farmers themselves. Government should create an enabling environment. It’s essential that the enabling environment is shaped in a right way, but cooperatives should be formed by the people themselves, and owned by the people themselves, and not by the government.

Do you think Indian cooperatives have to be more professional? Do they need to improve their capacity?

Ans:  There are quite successful cooperatives in India also. Amul is a very successful cooperative. So it is not fair to say that cooperatives do not function in India, but there is a lot of scope for cooperatives. You have so many smallholders, like 130 million farmers, half of the population is involved in agriculture. As you have so many small holders, you have so much scope for cooperation. How can they be powerful in front of retailers, if they do not cooperate?

Do you see any opportunity that Netherlands can collaborate with Indian cooperatives?

Ans:  No, we do not have plan as of now, we have not been asked for also. But of course we are willing to share information. We have our national cooperative council, which is a kind of body where all the cooperatives are member, where they do knowledge sharing.  We are willing to work together.

What is the volume of agricultural trade between India and Netherlands? How do you see the prospects?

 Ans: Well, Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agriculture and food products in the world. But our export (Netherlands agricultural food products) to India is much less than to yours (India’s export to Netherlands). India exports for around €700 million to the Netherlands where we export for around €100 million to India. So India exports 7 times more to us than we do to India. And this is mainly because we do not focus on export agricultural food products; towards India we focus on the export of knowledge, technology.  And I believe this is beneficial to both our countries.

Do you have any project functioning in India?

Ans:  Yes, we are working with many states. . We have been asked by the Indian government to support setting up centers of excellence. We have now one running in Baramati (Maharashtra),  which is doing very well.

e As a Dutch government, we also have a facility  which stimulates the companies to form clusters. For example we have a potato cluster; we have a dairy cluster, fruit cluster, and vegetable cluster. These are clusters of let’s say 8 to 10 companies. Not only companies, but vocational training institutes, who joined together, and jointly operate in India and provide chain solutions. For instance, one of them is operating in apples in  Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand. You need new varieties, you need new technologies, you need knowhow. And these clusters can be very helpful in this transition.

Are the Dutch companies working in these Clusters or are you collaborating with the local farmers or companies also?

Ans: These clusters which we support as a government are Dutch companies. But they have to cooperate with the counterparts, so that’s what we do . Another thing , what we do is supporting the agricultural chains, for instance in horticulture, helping in horticulture production, with new seeds , new production methods, using biological pest control, and   take care of the retail, so till it reaches consumer.  And this is PPP, where the cluster of companies is mixed with Dutch and Indian companies .

We support this set up of the whole chain, mainly because we want to stimulate the involvement of the small holders also. We have been doing this for instance, in Karnataka

Could you tell us briefly about flower auctions in Netherlands? How does the auction work?

Ans: We are world leaders in auctions. These are managed by the farmers. I think you can only manage when it is farmers driven, farmers own these cooperatives. Otherwise it will never work. The farmers owe their success or the losses; I think that’s the way it should go.

I know there were some attempts in India to set up auctions, but you cannot force the farmers to make use of the auction. But if he owns his auction he looks at it differently.

Earlier you said Netherlands is ready to share its knowledge. Do you see any opportunity?

Ans: Yes , we have the knowledge, and we are always ready to share. I think this could really be helpful for the development of the agricultural sector.

Do you think small and marginal farmers in India should form cooperatives to make farming viable?

Ans:  Yes, for me, it is so important that the initiative should come from the farmers. That’s crucial. If the farmers are forced to work in cooperatives, it will never work. It has to be their own initiative, they have to have ownership, otherwise I don’t believe in the success of the cooperatives.

 

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