Co-op News September 2019: Agriculture


How are co-ops working agriculture?



Can co-ops reduce

the burden down

on the farm?

Plus … Preview of the

ICA Global Conference ...

Why co-ops should be like

pirates ... and proposals

for Irish legal reform

ISSN 0009-9821

9 770009 982010





Why agriculture needs

co-operation more than ever




Holyoake House, Hanover Street,

Manchester M60 0AS

(00) 44 161 214 0870


Rebecca Harvey


Anca Voinea |


Miles Hadfield |


Jen Banks


Keir Mucklestone-Barnett


Owais Qazi


Elaine Dean


Barbara Rainford (chair), David Paterson

(vice-chair), Gavin Ewing, Tim Hartley,

Beverley Perkins and Ray Henderson.

Secretary: Richard Bickle

Established in 1871, Co-operative

News is published by Co-operative

Press Ltd, a registered society under

the Co-operative and Community

Benefit Society Act 2014. It is printed

every month by Buxton Press, Palace

Road, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6AE.

Membership of Co-operative Press is

open to individual readers as well as

to other co-operatives, corporate bodies

and unincorporated organisations.

The Co-operative News mission statement

is to connect, champion and challenge

the global co-operative movement,

through fair and objective journalism

and open and honest comment and

debate. Co-op News is, on occasion,

supported by co-operatives, but

final editorial control remains with

Co-operative News unless specifically

labelled ‘advertorial’. The information

and views set out in opinion articles

and letters do not necessarily reflect

the opinion of Co-operative News.



From climate change to a growing population to feed, from fierce competition in the

markets to downward pressure on prices, these are testing times for farmers. This

has brought the benefits of co-operation, which range from a sense of solidarity to

shared innovations and economies of scale, into the spotlight.

In the UK, the sector is still waiting for a collaboration fund announced three years

ago by the government to come on line. Civil servants have been busy working on

contingency plans for Brexit – but the country’s exit from the EU, which will end CAP

payments and bring tariff issues – mean this collaboration fund is urgently needed

(p28-32). Our lead feature also asks how co-operation is helping farmers in their

drive to more sustainable production, and to take control of their supply chains in a

market dominated by multinationals.

We also take a look at how agricultural co-operation plays out at difference scales,

from national policy to village projects (p34-35), and the specific issues that have

brought problems to the dairy sector, which has suffered from price volatility

bringing demutualisations, mergers, and farmer disputes (p36-37).

Of course, there are always new markets and opportunities for the sector – some of

which come in unexpected and controversial forms; this month report on the way

co-ops and credit unions in the US and Canada are taking advantage of liberalised

law on cannabis (p38-39).

Elsewhere in this month’s edition, we look at the past and possible future of

co-operation in Ireland (p44-47), efforts by the Fairtrade Mark to protect its integrity

among a sea of challenger labels (p42-43) and a new, and unusual, perspective of

the disruptive potential of co-ops – which draws inspiration from the golden age of

the pirates (p40-41).

And, as the world’s co-op movement makes preparations to in Rwanda in October,

we preview the ICA Global Conference – Co-operatives for Development (p26-27)


Co-operative News is printed using vegetable oil-based

inks on 80% recycled paper (with 60% from post-consumer

waste) with the remaining 20% produced from FSC or PEFC

certified sources. It is made in a totally chlorine free process.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 3

ICA Global Conference ...

Why co-ops should be like

pirates ... and proposals

for Irish legal reform

ISSN 0009-9821


9 770009 982010



Brandi Stankovic (p22-23); troubles for

the dairy sector (p36-37); stubble burning

in the Punjab (p28-29); cannabis, co-ops

and credit unions (p38-39); Anne Bonny, a

pirate inspiration for co-operators (p40-41)

44 | AUGUST 2019

news Issue #7311 SEPTEMBER 2019

Connecting, championing, challenging



Can co-ops reduce

the burden down

on the farm?

Plus … Preview of the

COVER: Working on the farm at Stroud

Community Supported Agriculture, one of

many co-op initiatives being applied to

the sector. This month, the News looks at

issues facing farm co-ops

(Photo: Stroud Community Agriculture)

Features: p28-39





Strategic Advisory Services senior vice

president at CU Solutions Group


Sophie McCulloch looks in the archives at

the UK retail movement’s farming past


The world co-op movement gathers

in Rwanda in October to discuss

development. Here’s a look at

the agenda.



Sustainability, tough competition and

Brexit all pose challenges to farmers.

How can co-ops help them weather

the changes?


Case studies of co-op development in

agriculture, from village level to

national policy


How have uncertain prices, mergers

and demutualisations affected

the sector?


New laws bring opportunities and

challenges for co-ops and credit unions


Social entrepreneur and writer Sam Conniff

Allende thinks the seafaring pirates of the

17th century have had a bad press – and

their example offers lessons for modern

day disruptors like co-operatives.


There is now a glut of rival ethical

certifications on facing shoppers – but

Fairtrade is still the gold standard. How

can it retain its status in the supermarket

and on the farm?



A new history looks at how the co-op

movement helped to shape the emerging

Irish nation – and sought to relieve

hardship facing its rural communities


The co-op and credit union movements in

Ireland are calling for legal reform to help

them thrive and grow. But how will this take

shape – and why is it taking so long? Paul

Gosling reports


6-13 UK updates

14-21 Global updates

24 Letters

48 Reviews

4 | SEPTEMBER 2019

Keeping Co-operative News on course in the

age of digital media

A message from the new Co-op Press chair Barbara Rainford

I am truly honoured and excited to be elected the new chair of Co-op Press. I would like to take this

opportunity of thanking retiring chair, Elaine Dean, for her admirable leadership of the board over the past

six years – and particularly for guiding us through the challenges of the last year. Thanks also to David

Paterson for his continued support as vice-chair.

The editorial team, led by Rebecca, is doing an excellent job of keeping the co-op movement up to date with

co-operative progress – not just in the UK but in Europe and globally. As technology advances, the world

grows smaller with new co-ops like Coop Exchange emerging that will allow anyone in the world to invest in

co-ops – supported by Ben Reid and Dame Pauline Green, two very familiar and exceptional co-operators.

When Rebecca first joined Co-op Press, she designed the new logo and the new magazine format which have

been very favourably accepted across the movement, by everyone – big societies and worker co-ops alike.

As international editor, and with her excellent knowledge of several languages, Anca’s diverse experience

and excellent research skills continue to keep us up to date on the co-op movement worldwide. Miles’

journalistic skills help source a range of fascinating stories – and between them the team bring in-depth

coverage of co-operative events.

Co-op News has seen many changes since its first publication in 1871 – the first edition was a black and

white newspaper, printed in-house, a far cry from the full colour magazine format we are all so familiar with

now. As we go further into the digital age there will be more changes; many people prefer to catch up with

the news on phones, tablets and laptops, and current news can be shared easily and rapidly in this format.

This can allow us to reserve more specific articles – and a precis of news items – for the printed copy.

The Co-op Press board has just completed a strategic plan looking ahead for the next five years; this includes

retaining the printed copy for those subscribers who wish to read it in this format – but also better use of

digital technologies that will allow us to widen our international co-operative audience.

This year we will be liaising with Co-operatives UK, the Co-operative College and the Heritage Trust on the

New Force project – working together in true co-operative fashion to reduce overheads and share resources.

While the Co-operative College celebrates 100 years this year, Co-op News will celebrate its 150th anniversary

in 2021, and the board and editorial team are looking forward to planning how to mark this special occasion

and share it with members.

In the meantime, Co-op News will continue to be the voice of the co-op movement – celebrating achievements,

championing co-operative issues, reliving historical milestones, and interviewing outstanding speakers

– the last edition saw us catch up with Ted Howard, Claire McCarthy and Andy Burnham – and covering

co-operative events globally as well as in the UK.

I am looking forward to the challenges of the next year and sharing our co-operative success stories with

you all.


SEPTEMBER 2019 | 5



Portrait of the

movement: Figures

show UK co-operatives

had a record £37.7bn

turnover for past year

The latest Co-op Economy Report reveals

that the UK’s 7,215 independent co-ops

had a turnover at a record high of £37.7bn

for 2018-2019 – up more than £400m on

the previous year.

However, the number of independent

co-operatives has fallen by 51, says the

report, produced by sector apex body

Co-operatives UK.

The report shows the turnover,

membership and employee figures for

thousands of co-ops across the UK.

Co-operatives UK attributes the decline

in the number of co-ops to a decline

in new starts, with 150 co-op start-ups in

2019, down from the previous year’s 191.

The report confirms the co-operative

model remains resilient, with almost

three out of four co-op start-ups (72%) still

flourishing after the difficult first five years

of existence, compared to only 43% in the

case of new companies (57%).

The UK’s co-ops have 13.7 million

members and 233,733 employees. The

majority of the UK’s co-ops are based in

A comprehensive

report on the UK’s

co-operative sector


p Nenthead Arts and Visitor’s Centre – one of England’s highest co-ops

England, which also accounts for 87% of

the total turnover, as well as 79% of newly

created co-ops in 2019. However, both

Scotland and Wales created more co-ops

than England when correlated against

the population.

The report reveals that agriculture and

finance remain the dominant sectors in

Scotland, combining to provide almost

40% of co-ops. More than 50% of co-ops in

Wales are in the membership associations,

social clubs and trade unions sector. In

Northern Ireland over 61% of co-ops are

in the finance sector – reflecting a strong

credit union presence, with another 15%

of co-ops in the agriculture sector.

According to the report, the UK’s

largest co-operative is the John Lewis

Partnership, with a turnover of £10.316bn,

followed by the Co-op Group with

£10.162bn, Arla Foods with £2.643bn,

the National Merchant Buying Society

(NMBS) with £1.787bn and Midcounties

Co-operative with £1.177bn. Central

England Co-operative comes sixth with

a turnover of £827m.

Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells said:

“We are living in fractious and uncertain

times where many communities feel

disconnected and vulnerable. It is in

such a climate where the true value of

co-operation can shine through, just like

it did in Rochdale 175 years ago.

Co-ops are innovative, resilient and

inclusive – characteristics the UK will

need more of in the years ahead. Our way

of doing business has never felt more

relevant than it does today.”

The report also shows that rural

economies are the most co-operative in

the UK, with the Outer Hebrides, Orkney

Islands and Shetland Islands having the

highest ratio of co-operative businesses

to people, followed by Eden and Allerdale

in Cumbria.

Among those co-operatives making an

important difference in rural economies

is Papay Community Co-operative,

6 | SEPTEMBER 2019

a member-owned business on Papa

Westray, one of the most northerly of the

Orkney Islands.

The centre, which is run entirely by

local people, operates the island’s only

shop as well as a 20-bed hostel.

Papay’s secretary Tim Dodman said:

“It’s absolutely vital for us to have

a community shop – a reliable shop that’s

competitively priced. It has played a key

role in preventing population decline.”

He added: “The co-op ethos is very

important. It’s a sharing model. This is

a small island and pretty remote.

“It’s much better to work co-operatively

than have one individual in control

of a lifeline service.”

Similarly, in the North Pennines, the

Nenthead Arts and Visitor Centre was

saved by local residents who raised

the funds through grant funding and a

community share offer. A former chapel,

the centre is one of England’s highest

co-ops – based at around 15,000 feet

above sea level.

Sandra Mackenzie, chair of Nenthead

Arts and Visitor Centre, said: “Our aim

is to put Nenthead on the map as a

top tourist destination, attracting visitors

to the our fabulous café, exciting gallery

space and dramatic outdoors.

“The centre is now owned by the

community, which means we control our

own destiny, with members having a stake

and a say in how things are run. With

tourism making such a vital contribution

to so many people’s livelihoods it was

important to us that the community is

empowered to take decisions about such

a valuable asset.”

Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK secretary

general, said: “When needs are so

acute in remote and rural areas there’s

a necessity and greater impetus for people

to work together. There’s strength in being

able to rely on others, on being part of

a co-operative.

“The model is just as relevant in

inner-city Glasgow or central London

as it is in the Outer Hebrides. The entire

UK economy could learn a lot from the

extraordinary success of the Scottish

isles and rural Cumbria – particularly in

today’s climate.”

Number of farming co-operatives falls – but with an increased turnover

The number of farming co-operatives in the

UK has dropped for the fourth time in five

years, from 440 in 2018 to 434. According

to the latest Co-operative Economy Report

published by Co-operatives UK, the

number of farmer owners has fallen by

1.8%, to 153,486, though overall turnover

is up to £7.9bn (£7,901,313,984) from

£7.8bn (£7,751,807,185).

In light of the report’s findings, the

sector is calling on farmers to stand united

to combat the threat of multi-national

corporations in the food supply chain.

Among those responding to the report’s

findings is Aspatria Farmers, a farmerowned

co-op, which sources farming

supplies for its 900 members operating

across Cumbria, the north east and southwest


CEO Tim Wilson said: “The supply

chain is getting controlled by fewer and

fewer players who all want to take more

money out of farmers’ pockets.”

He added: “There’s a need to get our

act together and demonstrate that by

co-operating we are stronger together.”

The UK lags behind other European

countries when it comes to the market

share of farming co-ops, currently at just

6%. By contrast, farming co-ops have a

45% market share in Spain, 55% in France

and 68% in the Netherlands.

Mr Wilson added: “A co-op can also help

farmers manage an increasingly complex

business. Most farmers are time precious.

You’ve got farmers managing a farm twice

the size that their ancestors managed –

with half the personnel. By learning better

practices, by innovating, by co-operating

better, we’ll all do our jobs better.

“Everybody who comes up a farmer’s

drive is going to take money out of

the farmer’s pocket. If you’re part of a

co-operative, then the farming expert

who comes up your drive is going to try

to make the farmer more money. Without

successful customers, you don’t have

successful businesses.”

Co-operatives UK’s agriculture manager

Richard Self says increasing farmers’

control over their produce is not about

maximising profits, but is crucial to a

farmer’s ability to innovate and create

a sustainable business.

He said: “Lack of co-operation and

collaboration has helped create an

imbalance of power within the supply

chain, weighted heavily towards the

retailers and dominant food processors.

This, in turn, means primary producers

struggle to have the financial return

necessary to invest in new technology

and skills.”

u Spotlight on agriculture: 28-39

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 7


Digital transformation will run from the supplier to the shopper in the aisle

p Checking out in the aisle with the Group’s new app

The Co-op Group has begun the first stage

of its Retail Business Transformation

programme (RBT), with the introduction

of new tech to improve ranging, stock

holding, availability and forecasting.

As part of the changes, the retailer

is using a new cloud-based supplier

collaboration portal, Co-op Connect.

The systems are being tested in 24

stores, across five categories, with 15

suppliers and around 300 stock-keeping

units. The categories being trialled are

soft drinks, salads, paper, pizza and

beer, working with suppliers including

Coca-Cola, Heineken, Agrial Fresh

Produce, Bakkavor Pizza & Bread, and

Kimberly Clark.

Michael Fletcher, chief commercial

officer at the Group, said: “The RBT

programme is an integral part of Co-op’s

ongoing success, as we look to ensure

that the technology we are using will

future-proof the business for many years

to come.

“This pilot will allow us to work with

suppliers to ensure that it is working

perfectly before we roll it out elsewhere,

and we are already getting positive

feedback that the new portal is faster and

easier to navigate.

“Investing in new technology will

allow us to grow the business, helping to

deliver a stronger Co-op that will result in

stronger communities.”

Meanwhile, shoppers at several Group

stores will soon be able to check out using

their phones and other mobile devices.

After piloting its pay-in-aisle technology

in 2018, the retailer is rolling it out to more

than 30 Co-op Food stores across England,

Scotland and Wales by late August.

The technology sits along existing

payment methods – including cashiers

and self-scan tills – to provide added

choice, speed, ease and convenience,

especially at busier times.

The app, which is easy to register and

use, enables customers to scan products

on their own device as they walk around

the store, with the cost of the shop

deducted from their Apple or Google

Pay account with the touch of a button,

without the need to visit a till.

Members can also have their 5% reward

added to their account on the purchase of

own-brand products, while the Group will

donate a further 1% to local causes.

The new technology responds to a 10%

decline in the popularity of notes and

coins in Co-op stores during the last two

years. The use of contactless, cards and

other payment methods now accounts

for more than one in two transactions

even though cash remains common in

convenience stores.

Mark Pettigrew, director of retail

support, said: “Technology is bringing

unprecedented levels of change to

retailing, with speed and ease key drivers

for time-pressed consumers. We know

that people adopt technology at different

speeds, and while cash is here to stay it is

clear that it is increasingly playing a lesser

role in society.

“Retailers need to adapt and be agile,

and this app builds added choice and

convenience into the retail experience

for our members and customers, while

appealing to new shoppers.”

He added: “People lead busy lives and,

shoppers value their time. Whether it’s

a train to catch or on the school run this

technology cuts queues and saves time.

“It can give our stores increased

opportunity to replenish stock and

increase product availability so we are

at our best even at our busiest times,

and enables customers to complete their

shopping quickly and get on with the rest

of their day.”

8 | SEPTEMBER 2019


Retail road trip: Heading out to meet the membership

The Co-op Group is encouraging members

and communities to get involved in the

business and find out more about its

operations through a series of live events

around the UK this autumn.

The 12 Join In Live events in

September and October will be hosted by

representatives of the Group’s National

Members’ Council, Member Pioneers,

senior leaders and local community

teams. They will highlight the work the

organisation is doing above and beyond

retail and give members the chance to “get

involved in making a difference together”.

Visitors will hear updates on what’s

happening around the business and

the latest on big projects such as the

Endangered Spaces campaign, and will

help generate ideas on how the Group can

celebrate 25 years of Fairtrade and better

support producers and customers.

A pop-up Co-op Marketplace will offer

samples of new food and drink products,

and will be a place to meet Co-op

colleagues and other members.

Registration goes live on 2 September

and there will also be an app available

containing further details about the

events and who will be there; the

app can also be used as a tool for

submitting questions in advance and

making notes.


West Midlands: Stoke (Co-op Academy)

Wednesday 25 Sep, 6.30pm

South West: Plymouth (Guildhall)

Thursday 26 Sep, 6.30pm

Cymru/Wales: Cardiff

(Principality Stadium)

Saturday 28 Sep, 11.00am

East Midlands: Nottingham

(Cricket Club, Trent Bridge)

Wednesday 02 Oct6.30pm

South East: Brighton

(The Crypt at St Georges)

Thursday 03 Oct, 6.30pm

London: Coin Street Conference Centre

(108 Stamford Street, SE1 9NH)

Saturday 05 Oct, 11:00am

North West: Salford

(Co-op Academy Walkden)

Monday 07 Oct, 6.30pm

Scotland: Glasgow

(The Studio Glasgow, 45 Oswald St, G1 4PA)

Saturday 12 Oct, 1:00pm

Yorkshire & Humber: Leeds

(Leeds University Union)

Wednesday 16 Oct, 6.30pm

North East: Newcastle

(Brunswick Methodist Church)

Thursday 17 Oct, 6.30pm

East of England: East Anglia

(Wymondham Central Hall)

Saturday 19 Oct, 10.30am

Northern Ireland: Belfast

(Girdwood Community Hub)

Thursday 24 Oct, 6.30pm

Councils told to act more quickly on food waste as

climate battle hots up

The Co-op Group has urged English local

authorities to speed up the rollout of food

waste collections from homes as new

figures reveal approximately 1,000 tonnes

a day ends up in landfill when it could be

composted or used to create energy and

help cut greenhouse gases.

Food waste rots and produces methane,

a greenhouse gas estimated as 23 times

more damaging than carbon dioxide.

The Group also believes many of

the 1.75 billion single-use plastic bags

in circulation could be replaced with

compostable alternatives – such as the

bags it is giving out in more than 1,000

stores in areas where the local authority

accepts them in food waste collections.

The carriers have been designed to

have a valuable second use as food waste

caddy liners. The Group estimates that it

could stop producing 60 million plastic

bags if local authorities begin food waste

collections from homes sooner and permit

the use of compostable carrier bags as

food waste bin liners.

It is also writing to all local authorities

that do not collect food waste at all,

calling for the introduction of universal

food waste collections to be sped up, to

help stop 356,000 tonnes of food waste, in

England alone, going to landfill.

Currently 156 English councils (48%) do

not have a kerbside food waste collection

– while, of the 169 local authorities that

do, 12% per cent refuse the compostable

bags. The Group has written to these

20 local authorities calling on them to

change their position.

The Group says it will make the

compostable carriers widely available

through its wholesale operation if local

authorities and the government accept

them in food waste collections, saving

more than 5 million plastic bags a month

from ending up in landfill.

Proposals being developed by the

government will see all homes receiving

weekly food waste collections by 2023,

but twice as much of the total food wasted

in the UK a year could be recycled into

energy and fertiliser, if this were to be

introduced quicker.

Michael Fletcher, chief commercial

officer at the Group, said: “How we do

business really matters. The world is

experiencing a climate crisis and we need

to work together to avoid it.

“Accelerating action is the only way

to mitigate and reduce impacts on our

natural world, and to ensure stable food

supply chains in the future.”

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 9


BSL interpreters sign up for new co-op to cut out the middle man

A new platform co-op, SignCo, is being

formed for BSL English interpreters and

translators, in a bid to halt a “race to the

bottom” in the profession.

The team behind the Merseyside

venture says agencies have been dictating

fees, terms and conditions in recent years,

and wants to “change contract culture in

favour of end suppliers (translators), end

users and health professionals”.

Under the current system, says SignCo,

“health services have struggled to make

their services accessible”.

The co-op will be run democratically

by its members, who will include

service users as well as interpreters and

translators. It will consult with all users

to co-create a service that works for health

staff, users and workers.

Members will co-design an online

booking platform and hold discussions

over how it should work. Once the

platform is up and running, SignCo says

it will “use it to get NHS contracts and

provide a better service for all”.

SignCo’s founders – Jen Smith, Wes

Mehaffy, Kate Boddy and Nicky Evans

– have already surveyed NHS staff and

service users in Merseyside and are being

helped by Co-operatives UK and co-op

support programme the Hive. “The deaf

community have had to endure years

of poor provision due to contracts that

are not fit for purpose,” they said. “Too

often commissioners consulted only

with agencies wishing to bid and not the

community using the services.

“SignCo wants deaf people to become

members and help shape all our services.”


Three more years of funding granted for

Welsh community housing projects

Wales Co-operative Centre has secured

£1m – three years worth of funding – for

its programme to develop co-operative

and community-led housing.

The programme – Communities

Creating Homes – was launched at the

Royal Welsh Show on 23 July and follows

on from its Co-operative Housing Project,

which saw 137 co-op and community-led

housing homes developed.

Chief executive Derek Walker said:

“Wales is facing a housing crisis... Wales

Co-operative Centre is helping people to

come together to develop co-operative and

community-led housing schemes, which

can make housing more affordable.”

He added: “We have been pleased

with the level of interest. Many had been

previously unaware of this alternative

model but they have quickly understood

what’s on offer. It is a chance to make

homes, not just houses, and to create

ready-made communities.

“The funding from the Nationwide

Foundation and Welsh government will

help us provide a comprehensive package

of support, which is free of charge and

tailored to the needs of each scheme.”

The Nationwide Foundation will

provide three years of funding, with the

Welsh government allocating funding for

two of the three years.

Gary Hartin, Nationwide Foundation’s

programme manager, said: “Co-op and

community-led housing provides decent,

affordable homes for people who need

them, in places where they’re wanted.

It has the energy and commitment of

local people and creates a big impact

for the communities in which it

delivers homes.

“In Wales, there is growing and clear

demand for co-operative and communityled

housing, so we welcome the

commitment from the Welsh government

which, alongside our funding, will ensure

it continues to flourish. We believe co-op

and community-led housing has the

potential to become a mainstream option

in Wales for delivering affordable homes.”

Julie James, minister for housing

and local government, added: “The Welsh

government remains very committed

to community-led housing in Wales,

which enables the community to be

integrally involved in decision making

about their homes.

“Building more affordable housing and

providing people with safe, warm and

secure homes is a key priority for this

Welsh government. I’m looking forward

to watching it grow and flourish and

contribute towards our commitment to

build 20,000 affordable homes during

this Assembly term.”

She added: “I am pleased we are

able to expand the support available

through the Wales Co-operative Centre

in conjunction with the Nationwide

Foundation. The demand for co-operative

and community-led housing in Wales

is growing – and this fantastic project

will benefit from £270,000 over the next

two years.”

10 | SEPTEMBER 2019


Co-operative Energy

‘in talks for merger”,

say reports

Co-op Energy is in talks with Octopus,

a rival challenger in the energy sector,

over a possible merger, according to

a report in the Sunday Times.

The newspaper says Octopus is looking

to acquire some or all of Co-op Energy’s

370,000 customers to add to its own

800,000 client base, which would take it

past the 1 million mark.

Losses at Co-operative Energy dented

the most recent annual results for its

owner Midcounties Co-operative, released

in May. The energy business had grown

its sales to £423m but was hit by rising

wholesale costs, leaving Midcounties

considering options to reduce its impact.

The society appointed auditor PwC

to explore options for two GB Energy

and Flow, two brands which had been

acquired by Co-op Energy. It took on

the 160,000 customers of GB Energy

Supply when it collapsed in 2016, and

bought Flow, which has around 130,000

customers, in 2018.

According to the Sunday Times, sources

said there had been problems merging the

IT systems of the different businesses, and

Co-op Energy has struggled with customer

service issues.

Octopus – which, like Co-op Energy,

supplies its energy from renewable

sources – entered the market in 2016 and

says it has been growing by around 30,000

customers a month. It now supplies more

than 400,000 UK homes.

It bought rival Affect Energy in

September last year, and took on

customers from Iresa after it collapsed

in December.

Co-op Energy and Octopus have both

declined to comment on the reports.

Lincolnshire Co-op plugs in to EV revolution

Lincolnshire Co-op is installing 50kW

rapid electric vehicle chargers at six of its

stores in a bid to encourage more drivers

to switch to an electric vehicle. Already,

East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber are

home to 25,000 electric car drivers, with

thousands more driving through the area.

Lincolnshire Co-op’s first electric vehicle

charger is now up and running at its

Albert Street Food Store in Newark

Co-op Group covers the waterfront with Salford store

The Co-op Group opened its newest food

store – at Clippers Quay, Salford – on 2

August, following an investment of almost

£750,000 that will create 20 new jobs. The

store creates 20 new jobs and its 5 and 1

reward scheme brings a funding boost to

the area, with a 5% rewards for members

when they purchase own-brand products

and services.

Southern stores offer shelter for protected bats

Southern Co-op is helping protected bat

species by installing bat boxes on two of

its local convenience stores. The stores,

in Titchfield and Bishops Waltham in

Hampshire, had the boxes fitted to house

local bat populations. A bat tile – with a

hole just big enough for a long-eared bat

to access – was also fitted to the roof of the

Titchfield store.

Central England open for business in Derbyshire village

Central England Co-op has opened a new

store in the village of Calow, Derbyshire.

The store, based in a former pub in Top

Lane, has eco-friendly fridges and lighting.

It has an outdoor seating area and its

range includes fresh fruit and veg, in-store

bakery, chilled beers and wines, Irresistible

product ranges and food to go.

Housing co-op brings new life to derelict site in Glasgow

Hawthorn Housing Co-operative has

opened a development of 48 two-storey

homes in Possilpark, Glasgow. The

£5.65m development, on land which has

lain derelict for more than 30 years, was

funded by a £3.75m housing association

grant from Glasgow City Council and

a £1.9m loan from the Bank of Scotland.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 11


Lessons from abroad:

UK sector leaders study

engagement in Romania

UK credit union practitioners have taken

part in a learning week with Romanian

counterparts in Bucharest.

Staff and directors from 14 English

and Scottish credit unions went on the

trip alongside representatives of the

Association of British Credit Unions

(Abcul) and Liverpool John Moores

University. The group attended classroom

sessions on governance and financial

education, and visited 10 credit unions

across the country.

They explored the different approach of

Romanian credit unions, known as mutual

assistance houses (CARs), which lend

a much greater proportion of their funds

than those in Britain. This is possible

due to a trusted guarantor system, under

which borrowers must identify one or two

people to guarantee the loan.

The system reduces risk and lowers

interest rates, enabling CARs to be

commercially successful despite operating

with smaller memberships.

Tom Waterhouse, a director at NHS

Credit Union, said: “The professionalism

and helpfulness of the staff from top to

bottom was unstinting; the CARs showed

a reach into their communities that some

of us in the UK can only dream of.

“The CARs also showed a range and

sophistication from the very traditional

to the very advanced that surprised and

impressed in equal measure.”

p The credit union delegation in Romania

Chris Smith, a director at Co-op Credit

Union, said he was impressed by the way

the bottom line is assessed using other

measures alongside interest and dividend.

Delegates learned about the work of

CARP Omenia, a credit union whose

members are pensioners – many of whom

must survive on low state pensions. To

help, the CAR offers other services such

as a GP surgery, a day centre, home visits,

and food products at cost price.

David Harris, marketing manager at

Pennine Community Credit Union, said:

“It was interesting to see similarities with

the UK credit union movement, while

being introduced to policy and procedures

that could improve the service we provide

to members. The hospitality shown by our

host was amazing.”

This event followed a Romanian visit

to Liverpool in June 2018, and a week in

Trento in Italy for British and Romanians

in October. This educational programme

is sponsored by the EU’s Erasmus+

initiative, which involves partners from

the UK, Italy and Romania.

Dan Arrowsmith, policy officer at Abcul,

said: “Our hosts in Italy and Romania have

been extremely generous in allowing our

credit unions to examine their methods

of operation and the reasons for their

success. Learning from our international

colleagues in this way has been so valuable

for a British credit union sector which

is still growing and developing its services

to members.”

David Batten, CEO at Hoot Credit Union

in Bolton, added: “The trip afforded

a valuable opportunity to reflect on

current practice as well as providing ideas

for the development of services at home.

“I was struck by the fact that although

our movements have very different

histories the issues we face are very

similar. Romanian credit unions have

very strong connections with their

communities which is something the UK

movement would do well to develop.”


Lincolnshire store at heart of historic restoration

Lincolnshire Co-op has opened its new

Sincil Street Food Store, in Lincoln’s

Cornhill Quarter.

The society has led the multi-million

pound redevelopment of the Cornhill

Quarter, which has seen many historic

buildings sympathetically restored. The

new store itself has had the original 1919

shopfront and curved glazing restored.

Design touches reflect the building’s

heritage, such as vintage-style lighting,

tiled flooring and a hanging clock on the

corner on Norman Street and Sincil Street.

Neil White, site manager for project

contractor Lindum, said the original

brickwork had been removed at ground

level and rebuilt to match the existing

curve. “It also involved retaining a 1940s

glass panel overhead,” he said. “The new

woodwork and curved glazing had to

match the size and shape perfectly. There

was no room for error.”

Lincolnshire CEO Ursula Lidbetter said:

“After years of working on the Cornhill

Quarter, it’s a special moment to open our

new food store in the heart of the area.

p CEO Ursula Lidbetter with the store team

“We wanted past and present to

complement each other ... I’m delighted

with the results.”

Researchers found that part of the

building was home to the co-op’s Colonial

Meat Store from 1908 – 1916.

12 | SEPTEMBER 2019


Piracy and adventure: Lessons for Welsh co-operators

Delegates at the 2019 Social Business

Wales conference will be encouraged to

‘be more pirate’ by writer Sam Conniff-

Allende, and hear advice on overcoming

obstacles by adventurer Lowri Morgan.

The rebels of the high seas were the

original social entrepreneurs, says Mr

Conniff-Allende, and can offer inspiration

to businesses of today.

And Ms Morgan, a traveller and

endurance athlete, will talk about how

she is motivated to surmount barriers and

challenges to succeed.

The conference, to be held at Venue

Cymru, Llandudno on 25 September,

brings together social businesses from

across Wales to learn from experts in

areas such as digital marketing, business

leadership and procurement.

There will be a special contribution from

Wrexham-based social enterprise, Eternal

Media, and Cwmni Bro Ffestiniog on the

transformational impact they have had on

people’s lives.

The event comes as research shows the

social business sector is worth £3.18bn to

the Welsh economy – an increase of 34%

on 2016. The Mapping the Social Business

Sector in Wales report, commissioned by

Social Business Wales, revealed there

are 2,022 social businesses in Wales,

employing around 55,000 people.

“Going into this year’s conference,

confidence is high within the sector, with

the vast majority of social businesses

expecting to experience growth over

the next few years,” said Glenn Bowen,

enterprise programme director at Social

Business Wales.

“However, the sector faces numerous

challenges that pose a risk to continued

growth and sustainability. Measures to

address issues around ageing leadership,

and access to suitable funding options,

for example, need to be designed and

implemented to secure the sector’s

long-term health. It’s a sector that, with

support that targets start-ups, growth and

p Lowri Morgan

sustainability, can continue to grow as we

navigate through the impact of Brexit.”

The event also features a range of

exhibitors from the public, private

and social enterprise sector in Wales –

including a number of the finalists from

the Social Business Wales Awards 2019.

The conference costs £10 to attend, with

tickets available online. The event follows

the Social Business Wales Awards, held

the previous evening at Venue Cymru.

u Interview with Sam Conniff-Allende:

p40-41; book review, p48


Alistair Asher, a key figure in the Co-op Bank rescue

Alistair Asher, a former member of the

Co-op Group executive and key figure in the

rescue of the Co-operative Bank in 2013, has

died after a short illness. Group CEO Steve

Murrells pays tribute.

Alistair joined the Co-op Group in May

2013 as general counsel. Prior to this, he

had been a senior partner at the law firm

Allen & Overy for 34 years, where he was

already part of the team working on plans

to recapitalise the Co-operative Bank

following its financial crisis.

Alistair recognised the seriousness of the

situation at that time and knew the Bank’s

troubles threatened to bring down the

entire Co-op Group and damage the wider

consumer co-op movement in the UK. He

worked tirelessly to prevent this.

Throughout the rescue phase, he was

at the heart of the efforts to stabilise the

Bank and protect the rest of the business.

There were months of long days and

hard meetings. Alistair brought energy,

professionalism, good humour and decency

to all he did during this time.

Through his work on saving the Bank,

Alistair grew to admire and then champion

the values the Co-op Group stood for – and

saw the importance of saving the business

for generations to come. And so he chose to

take early retirement from A&O and join the

Co-op full time.

As a member of the executive, Alistair

helped to complete the financial ‘rescue’ of

the Bank at the end of 2013 and went on to

take a leading role in the changes we made

to our constitution and governance. As

the Co-op began the ‘rebuild’ phase of its

turnaround, Alistair once again brought his

experience and intellect to the task.

I can say without hesitation that the

Co-op would not be here today if it weren’t

for Alistair Asher. He truly believed in the

importance of the co-operative movement

and became a passionate advocate

for co-operation.

Along the way he made many friends who

recognised his integrity and admired his

good nature and hard work. I will miss him

greatly and I’m sure many of my colleagues

in the Co-op will, too.

p Alistair Asher helped rebuild the Group

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 13



US agricultural

co-operatives continue

to consolidate

New research suggests that US agricultural

co-operatives are growing stronger.

Compiled by financial services provider

CoBank, the report suggests the number

of agri co-ops has been declining due to

mergers and consolidation.

According to the report, the pace of

consolidation in the sector has quickened

during the current downturn, averaging

4% annually in 2016 and 2017.

With farmers demanding better and

more diversified services from their

co-op, the sector started consolidating for

the purpose of scale and relevance. The

report reveals that over the decade from

2007 to 2017, on average, 70 co-ops were

consolidated annually.

From 1992 to 2017 the number

of co-operatives and co-op membership

fell by more than 50%. However, while

co-op numbers continue to shrink, the

number of co-op owned facilities or

locations seems to be steady or growing.

Some co-ops merge with other co-ops as

well as non co-ops, while others dissolve

and some restructure into non co-op

businesses. From 2003 to 2013, on average,

more than 70% of co-op consolidation

resulted from co-ops merging with or

being acquired by another co-op.

The research also highlights that

over the four-year period from 2014 to

2017, nearly three out of every 10 co-op

consolidations resulted from bankruptcy

or dissolution.

Consolidation also led to an increase in

the number of co-op employees. Between

2005 and 2017 US co-ops added roughly

7,700 employees and the average co-op

now employs more than 100 people,

a 33% increase in two decades.

Since 1952, co-op business volume has

grown at a compound annual growth

rate (CAGR) of 4.3%. Co-ops have also

increased their sales volume. If in 1983

90% of co-ops had sales of less than US

$15m (£12.33m), at present that figure is

only 50%.

The report argues that co-op income is

much stronger and more stable than in the

past, making the sector more sustainable

and adding a boost to local tax bases.

“We expect consolidation among

agricultural co-operatives to continue

as the industry confronts persistent

challenges in agricultural markets,

evolving farmer demographics and

management style, and the steady

pressure to gain scale in pursuit of

competitive advantage,” says the report.

u Spotlight on agriculture p28-39

Western Farmers Electric Cooperative boosts renewable energy capacity

One of Oklahoma’s biggest electric

co-operatives is boosting capacity with

the purchase of 200 megawatts of batterystored

energy that will increase its

generating fleet to more than 3 gigawatts.

Western Farmers Electric Cooperative

(WFEC) said the project will boost

the amount of reliable, low-cost and

environmentally friendly energy it

provides its customers.

CEO Gary Roulet said: “With the prices

of wind and solar energy lower than

ever, we are now able to pair those with

battery storage to make more affordable,

renewable energy available to customers

for more hours of the day – even when

the wind isn’t blowing and the sun

isn’t shining.”

Phil Schaeffer, the co-op’s principal

resource planning engineer, added: “Wind

has the tendency to blow during night

times, while solar generates its energy

during the day. We are really hoping to

see how battery storage interacts with

that whole profile. Hopefully, that will

translate to better grid stability.”

The power purchase agreement

between WFEC and NextEra cements

plans to complete what it claims as the

largest combined wind, solar and energy

storage project in the USA.

NextEra’s project is called Skeleton

Creek and will be located in the

Garfield, Alfalfa and Major counties of

Oklahoma. Its first phase will have the

capacity to generate 250 megawatts of

wind energy when it comes online at the

end of this year. The solar phase, along

with the 200 MW of storage will become

operational in 2023.

Based in the city of Anadarko, WFEC

was formed in 1941 and includes 21

distributive co-operatives, as well as

the Altus Air Force Base. The co-operative

signed its first power purchase agreement

for about 74MW of wind power with

developers of the Blue Canyon Wind Farm

near Lawton in 2003. It added its first solar

power in 2016.

14 | SEPTEMBER 2019


Gay Lea Foods co-op receives $16.9m from Canadian government

The Canadian government is funding the

expansion of Gay Lea Foods co-operative,

with a CA$16.9m (£10.5m) investment.

The dairy sector plays an important

role in Canada’s economy, contributing

$20.9bn (£13bn) through sales.

It is equally important in Ontario,

where more than 150 dairy processors

generate $6bn (£3.7bn) in sales and

employ more than 8,600 people.

The co-op will receive $10m (£6.2m)

from the Federal Economic Development

Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev

Ontario), which will support the

acquisition and installation of advanced

processing equipment and systems.

The technology will enable Gay Lea

to advance its scientific and technical

capability to produce new, high value

milk products, particularly for the health

food and nutraceutical markets.

An additional $6.9m (£4.3m) through

the DPIF will be used to adopt innovative

processes and equipment to minimise

by-product waste and reduce the plant’s

environmental footprint.

The investment will help to generate 13

new skilled jobs and maintain 50 at the

Teeswater facility. Set up 60 years ago,

Gay Lea has 4,300 members from

across 1,400 dairy farms in Ontario

and Manitoba.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of

agriculture and agri-food, said: “Our

government is proud to support Gay Lea

Foods Co-operative to help the company

to further develop new product lines,

reduce their environmental footprint,

while also creating good middle-class jobs

for Ontarians.”

The federal government thinks the

project aligns with its recently announced

rural economic development strategy,

which proposes stronger collaboration

and long-term strategic investments

to respond to the unique needs of

rural communities.

Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation,

science and economic development, who

has special responsibility for FedDev

Ontario, said: “Today’s investment in

Gay Lea Foods will help strengthen the

important agri-food sector here in rural

southern Ontario, while creating and

maintaining good jobs for Canadians.”

Gay Lea chair Rob Goodwill said:

“Gay Lea Foods has been steadily growing

a sustainable co-operative while being

a preferred partner in Canadian dairy,

food and beverage processing.

“The investment in our Teeswater

facility is one of many investments we

have committed over the last five years for

not only our co-operative, but Canadian

dairy farmers and a prosperous future for

Canadian dairy.”

Michael Barrett, president and

chief executive of Gay Lea, said the

modernisation of the Teeswater facility

proved that innovation and advanced

manufacturing was possible in rural

communities – providing the right tools

and partnerships were in place.

He added: “It is also a great example

of progress and adaptation in Canadian

dairy, as the site of Canada’s oldest

creamery is now home to the creation

of value-added products to serve new

market opportunities.”


Cocoa co-operative launches in Ghana

A cocoa farming co-operative has been

formed in the city of Kumasi, southern

Ghana, to support farmers and encourage

growth in the sector.

Launched by the Ghana Cocoa

Board (Cocobod) with support from the

Ministry of Agriculture, it is hoped the

formation of the new co-operative will

encourage farmer associations to register

as co-operatives.

Currently, 1,342 co-ops have been

identified by Cocobod’s Cocoa Health and

Extension Division. Only 512 of these are

fully registered with the government’s

Department of Co-operatives.

Addressing farmers and other

dignitaries at the co-operatives launch,

Cocobod’s chief executive Joseph Boahen

Aidoo announced a series of productivity

enhancement programmes. And he

revealed plans to distribute motorised

slashers for weeding to farmers via the

newly formed co-operative.

He said Cocobod would promote the

establishment of individual service

providers to supply pruning, slashing and

other essential farming services to farmers

to make their work easier.

Mr Aidoo urged individual farmers to

join co-ops and unions to enable them

to benefit from all government initiatives.

The deputy minister of agriculture

in charge of perennial crops, George

Boahen Oduro, insisted the government

is committed to improving the lives

of farmers, especially cocoa farmers.

He said cocoa farmers in particular are

being targeted for government support

because of the contribution they have

made to the economy.

Alhaji Alhassan Bukari, president

of the Ghana Cocoa, Coffee and

Sheanut Farmers Association, called

on all farmers to join the new co-op and

stressed that it had been formed for the

collective good.

He warned of the risk of partisan politics

breaking up the co-operative and urged

members to follow the rules laid down to

govern the organisation.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 15


Woccu conference: Credit unions look to a digital future

p Top: Woccu president and CEO Brian Branch. Bottom: Patrick Schwerdtfeger delivers his

presentation at the conference (Photo: Woccu)

Delegates at the World Credit Union

Conference in the Bahamas have heard

from industry experts on ways to make

best use of technology.

“The entire financial services sector is

at an important crossroads,” said World

Council of Credit Unions (Woccu) chair

Steve Stapp, who also serves as president

and CEO of Unitus Community Credit

Union in Portland, Oregon.

Keynote speaker Connie Dieken, founder

of Influence360˚ and strategic advisory

firm Dieken Group, gave delegates advice

on how to lead in their organisation by

connecting, conveying and convincing

their teams. “Why is influence so

important? Because influencers shape the

future, whereas persuaders maintain the

status quo,” she said.

Ms Dieken asked attendees to identify

a positive change they can make in their

credit unions and walked them through

the process of carrying it out.

Woccu president and CEO Brian Branch

told delegates the organisation’s goal for

2025 was the global digitisation of the

credit union system.

“It’s difficult for small financial

institutions to be able to afford this

technology,” he said. “That’s one of the

advantages we see across the globe in

co-operative systems. The ability of

co-ops to share the cost of investing in

and providing that technology, and those

high-skilled human technical resources to

provide credit unions across the country

with that digital technology.”

Delegates also heard from Patrick

Schwerdtfeger, founder of Trend Mastery

and the host of the Strategic Business

Insights video. He warned that the future

of credit union payments and transactions

will look radically different as blockchain

becomes more prevalent.

Telling credit unions to “stay on the

offensive”, he said the sector needed to

“aggressively go after the change” and

implement it as fast as possible within

their organisations.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity

in the financial services industry to

use a blockchain-based system for title

insurance,” added Mr Schwerdtfeger,

providing a list of examples where it could

be used. “I understand a lot of credit

unions are making big in-roads with

refugees – which is a perfect fit for credit

unions to begin with – and blockchain

can help in that space.

“There are all sorts of possible KYC

(know your customer) applications.”

In her keynote address, economic trend

forecaster Pippa Malmgren told credit

unions to prepare for radical change.

Ms Malmgren, who served as an advisor

in the George W Bush White House,

expects new types of digital currency and

payments to transform the way credit

unions do business.

“China has announced they want

to launch their own, sovereign

cryptocurrency. The EU has announced

that they want this. I think the American

authorities are looking at this very

carefully. The British are, too,” she said.

She added that credit unions also

needed to consider using data analytics

to better understand member needs as

well as attract new members. “Whatever

assumptions you have about where

economic opportunity is occurring, leave

them to the side, because it’s moving –

and it’s moving with data.”

The conference was presented in

collaboration with the Caribbean

Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU).

16 | SEPTEMBER 2019

Young professionals look at diversity and inclusion in the sector

Delegates from the World Council Young

Credit Union Professionals (WYCUP) took

part in a forum on diversity and inclusion

ahead of the opening of the World Credit

Union Conference.

Organised by the World Council of Credit

Unions (Woccu), the forum welcomed

professionals seeking to learn or support

youth in the credit union movement.

Brandi Stankovic, an executive

coach and chief strategy officer at CU

Solutions Group, led WYCUP members in

developing an action plan for the

conference week.

She told members to identify

a challenge that limits their leadership

abilities, and urged them to ask for

suggestions from their WYCYUP

colleagues on how to improve things.

“It’s not only for you, but also for the

individuals giving the ideas,” she said.

“So often, when something is a challenge

for us, we shut down the idea of looking

for solutions. But we can’t do that and still

grow into the leaders we want to be.”

WYCUP members also heard from

Chad Helminak, director of development

education and co-operative culture at

the National Credit Union Foundation.

He encouraged attendees to align their

values with those of the credit union

movement – and to explore ways to use

those values to generate new ideas and

encourage greater engagement among

colleagues and members.

A diversity and inclusion networking

lunch heard a keynote speech from Seattle

Credit Union executive vice president

Tonita Webb. She stressed that diversity

and inclusion programmes are easy for

credit unions to plan for but often very

difficult to implement.

“If you have a diversity and inclusion

programme, and you’re not addressing

implicit bias and micro-aggressions,

you’re going to have people leave,”

she said.

She encouraged credit union employees

to push for programmes that ensure

women and minorities can feel safe to

p Brandi Stankovic

talk about those issues, arguing that full

diversity, inclusion and equity is only

possible once that happens.

u Meet ... Brandi Stankovic, p22-23


International Credit Union Day will take local and global perspectives

With International Credit Union Day

approaching, the World Council of Credit

Unions (Woccu) has announced this

year’s theme: Local Service. Global Reach.

Celebrated on the third Thursday of

October since 1948, the day highlights the

movement’s history and achievements,

and shares member experiences.

This year’s theme was chosen by

members of Woccu and the Credit Union

National Association (Cuna) in the USA,

who were asked to choose their favourite

out of seven options. Credit unions from

12 countries sent 100 survey responses

favouring one theme.

Credit unions wishing to take part can

use logos and posters provided by Woccu,

and share photos, events, experiences and

ideas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

and LinkedIn using #ICUDay.

“Each credit union serves a local

community,” said Woccu president and

CEO Brian Branch.

“And it is because of that local service

in communities across the world that we

have a global credit union movement

that’s now 260 million members strong.

That’s why our theme – Local Service.

Global Reach – so perfectly captures the

focus and scope of credit unions as we

head into the next decade.”

“Our member focus means that we

continuously strive for higher levels of

member service and engagement,” added

Michelle Kamke, marketing projects

manager at Cuna.

“Our co-operative values make us

stronger together, because when we

empower locally, we inspire globally.

ICU Day is a chance to showcase the

meaningful change the movement brings

to members worldwide.”

p International Credit Union Day celebrates the spirit of the global credit union movement

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 17


Regulation and funding gap halt growth

of renewable energy co-ops in Germany

Renewable energy co-ops in Germany

warned that increased regulation and

worsening barriers to funding have stalled

the sector’s expansion.

According to a survey carried out by

DGRV, the country’s apex body for co-ops,

the sector is facing increasing hurdles

that prevent it from contributing to the

expansion of renewables.

The main challenges are reduced

support payments and the switch to

auctions for licenses for new capacity.

This means financial support is allocated

to renewable energy projects based on

the cost of electricity production, putting

smaller renewable energy co-ops at

a disadvantage.

“Every investor in wind energy has

to spend up to €100,000 (for each

wind turbine) for project development,

permissions, expert opinions etc. before

he can join a tender,” said Dr Andreas

Wieg of DGRV.

“If they lose the tender then their money

is also lost. A bigger project developer

with some wind projects can share the risk

but a typical energy co-operative has only

one project. That’s the reason why citizen

energy co-ops usually can’t bear the risk.”

The survey revealed only 54% of co-ops

are willing to invest in roof-mounted solar

power systems, due to reduced financial

support for such schemes. The figure

represents a decrease from 71% in 2018.

“This cannot be the political intention,”

said Dr Eckhard Ott, who heads the DGRV.

Germany currently has 869 citizens’

energy co-operatives with a total of

183,000 members. The sector has

invested €2.7bn in renewable energy,

with most co-operatives operating solar

power installations.

According to the latest figures from

the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy

Systems (ISE), renewable sources

accounted for 47.3% of Germany’s

electricity in the first half of 2019, while

43.4% came from coal and nuclear energy

in this period.

In spite of the increase in the share

of renewable energy, Germany remains

heavily reliant on coal and gas for its

energy needs and continues to account

for half of all coal production in the EU.

The country has set the target of becoming

carbon neutral by 2050.


Cooperatives Europe responds to Ursula von der Leyen’s election

Cooperatives Europe has congratulated

the new president of the European

Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who

was elected on 16 June.

The first woman to lead the

commission, Ms Von der Leyen comes

from the centre-right European People’s

Party and has served as German defence

minister. She is due to start on 1 November

2019 for a five-year term, taking over

from current Commission president,

Jean-Claude Juncker.

Cooperatives Europe said it looked

forward to working with Ms Von der

Leyen. The apex body said many of the

political priorities that will frame the

work of the Commission are aligned with

its key priorities set out in the strategy

paper Cooperative future for Europe: will

you be part of it?

Speaking to the Parliament, Ms Von der

Leyen detailed her vision and political

priorities. She said she wanted to make

Europe the first climate-neutral continent

by 2050, work with MEPs to strengthen

democracy and ensure a fair social market

economy in Europe.

After being nominated by EU member

states, she was elected with 383 votes in

favour, with 327 against, and 22 abstained

and one not valid.

Jean-Louis Bancel, president of

Cooperatives Europe, said: “We welcome

Ursula von der Leyen’s vision of tomorrow’s

Europe and reaffirm our willingness to

work closely with the representatives

of the European Commission to ensure

a sustainable Europe that puts people

before profit.”

Cooperatives Europe will focus on

engaging with the commission around

the European Pillar of Social Rights,

entrepreneurship policies and an

environmentally sustainable economy.

The apex body highlighted that as

people-centred enterprises, co-operatives

have demonstrated their strength in

establishing competitive businesses

while putting people first. It advocates for

a level playing field among all enterprises

and supports policy measures in the SME

strategy that aim to support innovative

companies such as co-operatives and

other social economy enterprises.

p Ursula von der Leyen

18 | SEPTEMBER 2019


Why making

profits is a challenge

for Irish credit unions

– despite asset growth

Low interest rates and slow loan growth

stand in the way of profits in the Irish

credit union sector, despite record assets,

says the country’s Central Bank.

The report also points to consolidation

in the sector, resulting in fewer and larger

credit unions. There are now 246 – down

from 388 in 2014. Of these, 109 have less

than €40m (£36m) in assets and 55 have

at least €100m (£91.5m).

This is contributing to an average loan

to asset ratio of 28% – a historic low for

the sector, which is affecting income.

Total income for the sector was €293m

(£268m) in the six months to 31 March

2019, mostly from loan interest and

investment income. Expenses across the

industry were €218m (£200m).

In response, some credit unions have

been restricting deposits or increasing

lending, with the report indicating “an

increase in credit risk appetite”.

Credit unions face challenges “in the

context of a rapidly-evolving external

environment and in meeting member

expectations for choice, access and speed

of decision-making”, said Patrick Casey,

registrar of credit unions.

“Changes are required to the traditional

credit union business model to meet those

needs. The financial metrics presented in

the financial conditions report should be

considered in that context.”

Some credit unions are also exposed to

the risks of Brexit, with “42 community

credit unions with total assets of €1.98bn

(£1.8bn) and total membership of around

406,000 ... operating in the counties

along the border with Northern Ireland,”

said the report.

But it added that credit unions enjoy

a competitive difference, with a highly

respected brand, member loyalty and

a member-centric ethos.

Cuna Mutual gets experimental with fintech

Credit unions in the USA will be able

to test fintech solutions through a new

catalyst incubator. The initiative comes

from CMFG, a venture capital arm of sector

service organisation Cuna Mutual Group

and industry thinktank Filene Research

Institute. The FinTech Catalyst Incubator

will test fintech and insurtech products

aimed at helping credit unions grow.

Data breach prompts security offer at Desjardins

Canadian financial co-op Desjardins

is offering members protection against

identity theft, making it the first financial

institution in Canada to offer such

coverage to all members at no cost. In

June, Desjardins announced that an

unauthorised use of internal data by an

employee had led to the breach of personal

information of 2.7 million members.

Rwandan trade minister expresses support for co-ops

Rwanda’s trade and industry minister

Soraya Hakuziyaremye has paid visits

to three co-operatives in Kigali, praising

their transparent management and

sustainable growth. The minister,

on a fact-finding tour to learn what

co-operatives are doing and how the

government can support them, said they

showed that people could achieve more by

working together.

Gina Fusco new chair of ICMIF Intelligence Committee

Gina Fusco, director of strategy and

marketing at NFU Mutual, has been

elected chair of the Intelligence Committee

of the International Cooperative and

Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF).

A sub-committee of the board of directors,

the group is made up of global senior

executives from 24 member organisations.

Calgary Co-op scraps plastic bags at some stores

Filling stations and liquor stores run by

Calgary Co-op in Canada are replacing

plastic bags with compostable alternatives.

The move extends a commitment to

reducing plastic by the co-operative, which

saw it introduce the 10 cent compostable

bags to its grocery stores on 22 April

- Earth Day.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 19


Fonterra dairy co-op predicts

possible $675m loss – and no dividend

New Zealand dairy co-op Fonterra says

it will report a loss of up to NZ$675m

(£354m) next month, citing adjustments

for its South American businesses,

drought in Australia and increased

domestic competition.

Chief executive Miles Hurrell said a full

review of the business across the year, and

work on the financial report for the year

to 31 July, had made it clear that Fonterra

needs to reduce the carrying value of

several of its assets and take account of

other one-off accounting adjustments,

which total approximately $820-860m.

He added: “While the Co-op’s FY19

underlying earnings range is within the

current guidance of 10-15 cents per share,

when you take into consideration these

likely write-downs, we expect to make

a reported loss of $590-675m this year,

which is a 37 to 42 cent loss per share.”

No dividend will be paid for the financial

year, which chair John Monaghan said

was “part of our stated intention to reduce

the co-op’s debt, which is in everybody’s

long-term interests”.

Mr Hurrel said: “Since September 2018

we’ve been re-evaluating all investments,

major assets and partnerships to ensure

they still meet the co-operative’s needs.

We are leaving no stone unturned in the

work to turn our performance around.

“We have taken a hard look at our endto-end

business, including selling and

reviewing the future of a number of assets

that are no longer core to our strategy.

The review process has also identified a

small number of assets that we believe are

overvalued, based on the outlook for their

expected future returns.”

He added that farmers and unit

holders would be updated with new

information as it became available,

and that the numbers still need to be

finalised and audited. Most of the oneoff

accounting adjustments relate to

non-cash impairment charges on four

specific assets and the divestments that

Fonterra has made this year as part of the

portfolio review.

“DPA Brazil, the New Zealand consumer

business, China Farms and Australian

Ingredients’ performance have been

improving, but slower than expected and

not at the level we had based our previous

carrying values on,” said Mr Hurrell.

“Our accounting valuation for DPA

Brazil will be impaired by approximately

$200m. This change is mainly due to the

economic conditions in Brazil. While they

are improving, consumer confidence and

employment rates are not at the level

required to support the sales volumes and

price points our forecast cashflows were

based on.

“As a result of the previously announced

sale of our Venezuelan consumer business,

and the closing of our small Venezuelan

Ingredients business, due to the country’s

economic and political instability, we

have made an accounting adjustment of

approximately $135m relating primarily

to the release of the adverse accumulated

foreign currency translation reserve.

“Our carrying value for China Farms

will be impaired by approximately $200m

due to the slower than expected operating

performance. While the extent in which

we participate is under strategic review,

the fresh milk category in China continues

to look promising and is growing.

“In our New Zealand consumer business,

the compounding effect of operational

challenges, along with a slower than

planned recovery in our market share

has resulted in us reassessing its future

earnings. We are now rebuilding this

business and, as part of this, have sold Tip

Top which allows the team to focus on its

core business. The combined impact is a

write-down of approximately $200m.

“Our Australian Ingredients business

is adapting to the new norm of continued

drought, reduced domestic milk supply

and aggressive competition in the

Australian dairy industry. This includes

closing our Dennington factory, which

combined with writing off the goodwill in

Australia Ingredients, results in a one-off

impact of approximately $70m.”

Mr Hurrell added that “these are tough

but necessary decisions we need to make

to reflect today’s realities”, and accepted

that “farmers and unit holders will be

rightly frustrated by these write-downs”.

“I want to reassure them that they

do not, in any way, impact our ability

to continue to operate,” he said. “Our

cashflow remains strong, our debt has

reduced and the underlying performance

of the business for FY19 is in-line

with our latest earnings guidance of

10-15 cents per share. We remain on

track with our other targets relating

to reducing capital expenditure and

operating expenses.”

There has been some negative reaction

from members. South Otago dairy farmer

and Federated Farmers dairy chairman

Mat Korteweg told the New Zealand

Herald: “Last year we were told to expect

a turnaround. For an average farmer

with 200,000 shares, no expectation

of a dividend is significant, as would

have been money that was reinvested

either into operations or reducing debt.”

u Spotlight on agriculture, 28-39

20 | SEPTEMBER 2019


New Zealand

co-ops celebrated at

sector’s annual awards

Agri-tech co-operative the Livestock

Improvement Corporation (LIC) has been

named New Zealand’s Co-op Business

of the Year.

LIC also won a joint award with dairy

co-op Fonterra, for their data-sharing

platform Agrigate.

The Cooperative Business NZ Annual

Awards were presented in Wellington at

an event hosted by national sector body

Cooperative Business NZ.

LIC picked up its gong for developing

world-leading biosecurity protection from

the drug-resistant bacteria Mycoplasma

bovis, among many other achievements.

Cooperative Business NZ CEO

Craig Presland said the Waikatobased,

110-year-old agri-tech and herd

improvement co-operative exemplified

co-operative values and highlighted the

strengths of the enduring business model.

“LIC tells, arguably, the biggest success

story among New Zealand’s co-operatives

in the last 18 months,” he said.

“It is a stand-out example of a modern,

progressive co-op, which has to operate

at the leading edge of its field in dairy

genetics and agri-tech to keep its farmer

shareholders ahead of the game.

Co-ops are member-owned as opposed

to investor-owned, with Kiwi shareholders

having skin in the game. The co-op

business model is part of our nation’s DNA

so it’s appropriate that LIC has won this

year’s Co-operative Business of the Year.”

Co-operative Leader of the Year

went to Carl Taylor, co-founder of oneyear-old

start-up Combined Building

Supplies (CBS).

Mr Taylor, a Christchurch-based builder,

set up the building supplies co-op in

April 2018 to offer a level playing field for

smaller and medium-sized construction

businesses, which do not have the buying

power or bigger rivals.

“To date, they have brought together

more than 160 SME trade businesses so

that their combined spending means

bigger discounts for CBS Co-op’s

members,” said Mr Presland, who called

for a similar co-op game-changer to solve

the country’s housing crisis.

The Co-operation Amongst Co-ops

Award, named after the sixth Rochdale

Principle, was shared by LIC and Fonterra

for Agrigate, a data-sharing and exchange

platform for farmers.

Mr Presland said Agrigate was first

envisaged five years ago by the late John

Wilson, former chair of Fonterra, and

Murray King, chair of LIC. They recognised

that farmers increasingly employ a

number of digital tools, all working

independently of one another rather than

in unison.

“The co-operation of LIC and Fonterra

demonstrates their joint and genuine

understanding of what it means to be a cooperative

– working in collaboration as a

way of meeting members’ needs,” added

Mr Presland.

The award for Outstanding Co-operative

Contribution went to Rob Hewett, former

chair of Silver Fern Farms (SFF) future

chair of Farmlands.

Craig Presland said Mr Hewett, who

farms in South Otago’s Manuka Gorge,

has led a range of initiatives including

increasing SFF’s board diversity and

working with China’s Shanghai Maling

to restore SFF’s balance sheet, “while

protecting the essence of the co-operative

and the voice of its shareholders”.

The Enduring Service Award went

to SBS Bank, New Zealand’s oldest co-op,

which celebrates its 150th anniversary this

year. Established in 1869, the Southland

bank is believed to be the first building

society in the world to have achieved bank

registration, in 2008, while retaining its

mutual structure.

Mr Presland said the member-owned

bank ensures profits are re-distributed

back to customers and therefore retained

locally, or invested into local communities

– “unlike our four major retail banks, all

Australian-owned, whereby a portion

of their profits is transferred offshore”.

p Above: Carl Taylor (CSB Co-op), Emma Parsons (CEO of Agrigate), Murray King (LIC) and Rob

Hewett (Silver Fern Farms) at the awards ceremony. Below: An LIC employee. Credit: LIC

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 21


Meet … Brandi

Stankovic of CU

Solutions Group

Dr Brandi Stankovic is strategic advisory services

senior vice president at CU Solutions Group, a

credit union service organisation in the USA. An

executive coach, she works with credit union

executives, touching on issues such as member

satisfaction, strategic thinking and growth. She

also hosts the leadership podcast Strategic Hotbox.

In March she facilitated a townhall consultation

process at the Association of British Credit Unions

(Abcul) conference, looking at the future of the

British movement, and she led sessions at the

recent World Credit Union Conference.


I’ve been involved in the sector for about 20 years.

I have worked inside a credit union and from a

business partner or supplier perspective; I am

heavily involved in the industry in the USA and

globally, through the World Council of Credit

Unions (Woccu). I really believe in the movement.



There are three main ones. Firstly, in technology

and the impact it has on financial services,

particularly the ability of an institution to leverage

technology, update legacy systems and increase

the literacy of their staff.

The second would be enterprise vs management,

and that’s a broader, more strategic focus of

risk – not just a market risk like liquidity, but

strategic reputation and compliance risk. Those are

overlooked by examiners and can cause the greater

losses to an institution.

The third is governance. Here the challenges

are both internal – from a succession, young




leadership and personal development standpoint –

and strategic, since good governance and structure

is essential for leadership.

I admire what is happening here with Abcul

who organised a townhall to discuss relevance,

purpose, sustainability and co-operation – these

are the keys to success for all credit unions across

the world. I was very thankful to be part of it.



There is a wide range of what service organisations

can provide and the USA is further down the line in

that. CU Solutions Group is a service organisation,

made up of 100 different investors, credit union

service organisations and credit unions. They

come together in a co-op way to provide, create and

develop leading-edge solutions.

At the most micro level, it could involve a credit

union which happens to be very good at collections;

they could offer those collection services to other

credit unions. At a broader scale, with CU Solutions

we might focus on issues such as technology,

marketing, HR and advisory services.




A greater breath of product service offerings will

strengthen them. My advice would be to educate

the membership on existing offerings, take a look

at the member service experience and make the

22 | SEPTEMBER 2019

lending process as frictionless as possible. If you

can only offer unsecured personal loans, then it

had better be easy to get that unsecured personal

loan – and look at the full member relationship, not

just the credit score.

Credit unions in the US are in that same boat;

in their case, it’s about really making sure they’re

tapping into two emerging markets through

product positioning. So to somebody in the baby

boomer generation it might be an unsecured loan

for home improvement; for somebody in a younger

demographic it could help them prepare for the

next chapter in their life, for example, education or

starting a family.





There are two programmes I’m involved in. The

first is the Global Women’s Leadership Network,

which started in 2009 in Barcelona. It is a network

of women who are looking to make a measurable

difference by doing professional and personal

development, as well as making an impact in the

community. We’re in many different countries

around the world.

I have been involved as a USA ambassador, which

means I help different sister societies be created

– we call them chapters – or local extensions of

the network. There are many chapters all over

the world and that has helped the growth of the

network. Those chapters include both men and

women because the network is about diversity and

inclusion and ensuring that women are part of a

leadership conversation.


We’re trying to get a sister society created here in the

UK. Beth Walsh, business development manager at

Pioneer Mutual Credit Union in Barrhead is leading

some of the efforts here in the UK around it. So key

issues on our agenda are expanding, continuing the

prevalence of the message, ensuring it stays top of

mind and increasing opportunities, scholarships,

and grants for women in all countries.



The WYCUP programme is focused on education,

events and networking. We encourage any of

the readers of Co-op News, if they have young

professionals networks in their areas, to loop into

WYCUP because we have a lot of local affiliates. If

you’re doing something in your area we’d like to

highlight it.

news Issue #7310 AUGUST 2019

Connecting, championing, challenging



What is it –

and why does

it matter?

Plus … 100 years

of the Channel Islands

Co-operative ... Coop

Exchange: addressing

the issue of capital

ISSN 0009-9821

9 770009 982010







I notice that the Co-op Group has hosted

promotions by Scottish Power in its stores.

My thoughts on this issue are really

around my sadness at the Group’s actions

in promoting a non-co-operative business

when a co-operative alternative of equal or

better quality is available.

I am particularly sad as Scottish Power

does not have a good reputation in the

market place and the Group is offering its

members and customers a lower quality

alternative sold by individuals who have

been observed using high pressure and

emotional sales practices in its stores.

Our sixth principle, Co-operation

Amongst Co-operatives, emphasises the

value of solidarity and calls on co-ops to

serve their members most effectively and

strengthen the co-op movement by working

together with other co-operatives at local,

national, regional and international levels.

In choosing a lower quality nonco-operative

alternative, the Group fails

the test set out by our values of openness,

social responsibility and caring for others

... it fails its members and its communities.

It is time for the Group to step up!

Chris Cooper

via Facebook



I was able to visit the Desjaredins general

assembly four months ago. Members

motioned the closure of branches due to

high expenses associated with them.

Fewer people go to branches to do any

transactions; the caisse have no choice

but to evolve with today’s needs, and they

did take members into consideration.

Even if the branch is closed, Desjardins

still provides transportation service for the

people who are not connected to or do not

want to use the internet.

I believe they are just growing with 21st

century ideas. A co-op model has to adapt

to the community needs.

Juan P. Mo


via Facebook

Co-op News has contacted the Group

about the Scottish Power promotions.

A spokesperson from the Group said: “The

energy companies are no longer in store,

and the feedback received will be discussed

with the agency which works with Co-op to

manage third-party promotional activity in

a small number of our stores.”



Reading your review of Marjorie Kelly and

Ted Howard’s The Making of a Democratic

Economy (News, August), I wonder how

many people in the co-op scene recognise

that they are promoting anarchosyndicalism.

That’s a good thing.

Lee Stuart Sianos

via Facebook



This customer’s satisfaction is falling, as

my local Co-op store is stocking less and

less Co-op products.

John Morton

via Facebook

Have your say

Add your comments to our stories

online at, get in touch

via social media, or send us a letter.

If sending a letter, please include

your address and contact number.

Letters may be edited and no longer

than 350 words.

Co-operative News, Holyoake

House, Hanover Street,

Manchester M60 0AS


Co-operative News

24 | SEPTEMBER 2019

Co-operative College centenary year:

CWS and Agriculture

As part of a regular monthly feature throughout the Co-operative College’s centenary year, archivist

Sophie McCulloch explores interesting items from the past. This month we’re looking at agriculture and

how the Co-operative Wholesale Society grew to be known as Britain’s biggest farm service, with more

than 80,000 acres of land in its possession.

From its beginnings, the co-operative movement

prided itself in taking positive steps to improve

its situation by finding practical solutions to any

issues that arose. This was certainly the case for

the Co-operative Wholesale Society and its journey

into agriculture.

CWS opened its jam and preserve works at

Middleton, Manchester, in 1896. Jam making,

of course, requires a large supply of fruit, but

instead of turning to others to supply this, the CWS

took its first steps into farming by purchasing land

with the intention of growing its own fruit.

The first piece of land the CWS purchased was in

the village of Roden, Shropshire, which comprised

several farms and associated buildings. The land

also came with a small manor house that was

opened as a convalescent home a few years later.

The Roden estate was purchased in June 1896 at

a cost of £30,000.

In 1904, the CWS bought more fruit farms in

Herefordshire to meet the increasing needs of the

jam factory and other parts of the business. Four

years later, a depot and further land was purchased

at Wisbech, in the Cambridgeshire Fens and in 1913

a farm in Whalley, Lancashire was added to the

portfolio for the purpose of cattle farming. By 1918

the CWS had more than 32,000 acres of farmland

throughout the UK and Ireland.

At the Co-operative Congress of 1909, the

setting up of the CWS Agricultural Department

was proposed. This was to be an organising

department to bring together the growing number

of agricultural co-operative societies in need of

a wholesaler. After extensive discussions, the

department was established in 1914. Over the

years it was able to help and advise agricultural

societies with any issues they had.

In addition to agriculture, the CWS was involved

in horticulture, with seed testing ground in

Derbyshire, whose seeds were sold in co-operative

society stores.

By the 1950s, the CWS was known as ‘Britain’s

Biggest Farm Service’ with more than 80,000 acres

of land in its possession, either directly owned

or leased.

By the end of the 20th century, the CWS had

become the Co-op Group and its farm service had

been radically restructured, becoming part of

the Food Retail Division and more focused on a

sustainable approach towards farming, in line with

its other ethical initiatives.

Consumer co-operative societies were also active

in agriculture. For example, the Royal Arsenal

Co-operative Society purchased a farm in the

1880s to facilitate the supply and delivery of

milk. The society also acquired 170 acres when

it bought the Bostall Farm and Suffolk Place

Estate in 1887 and 1889. In the Midlands, the

Birmingham, Ten Acres & Stirchley, and Codnor

Park & Ironville Societies had extensive farmland,

purchased to supply products to meet the needs

of the members.

To this day, the Co-operative College continues

to work heavily in agriculture, training thousands

of farmers in countries including Malawi, Zambia

and Rwanda. More information about this is

available at

Sophie McCulloch

Archivist at the

National Co-operative


More information

about the College and

how you can get involved

in its centenary year is

available at:

Below: CWS seed testing

ground in Derby

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 25

By Anca Voinea

What’s on the agenda at the

ICA conference in Kigali?

Co-operators from around the world will meet in

Kigali, capital of the Republic of Rwanda, on 14-17

October for the ICA Global Conference – Co-operatives

for Development.

Organised by the International Co-operative

Alliance (ICA) in partnership with the Rwandan

government and co-operative movement, the

conference will feature several high-level speakers,

including Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

The four-day event opens with an inaugural

ceremony on Monday evening led by Ariel Guarco,

president of the International Cooperative Alliance,

and Soraya Hakuziyaremeye, Rwanda’s minister

of trade and industry.

Mr Kagame will welcome delegates to Kigali on

Tuesday, 15 October, along with Mr Guarco, ICA-Africa

president Japheth Magomere, and Nicola Bellomo,

ambassador of the delegation of the European Union

to Rwanda.

The opening session will be followed by a keynote

address from environmental activist Dr Vandana

Shiva, who will look at how co-ops can help to achieve

a more solidarity-based and participatory society.

The Delhi-based academic has written more than

20 books, specialising in agriculture and food, and

has also campaigned on issues such as intellectual

property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology,

bioethics, and genetic engineering.

Next, delegates will have a choice of four parallel

sessions exploring the role of co-operatives in

achieving the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable

development. The sessions will look at how to tackle

inequalities through the co-operative movement,

touching on issues such as women’s empowerment,

innovation in entrepreneurship and inclusive ethical

value chains.

The conference will continue with a keynote speech

by Mohammed Sajid, from the Ministry of Tourism,

Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy,

who will focus on promoting the preservation of the

environment in Africa and beyond.

In the evening, a series of documentaries about

co-operatives in different parts of the world will be

screened at the Co-op Cinema. The documentaries

were created by researcher Sara Vicari and filmmaker

Andrea Mancori from

On Wednesday, 16 October, the morning

plenary will discuss sustainable development

through employment creation and decent work

for all. This will be followed by a plenary on

co-operatives and value chains and their impact from

a developmental perspective. Later, participants

can choose one of four parallel sessions exploring

how co-ops from different sectors – housing, energy,

healthcare and industry – play a role in development.

In the evening, delegates are invited to attend a

gala dinner which will feature the Rochdale Pioneers

Awards ceremony.

The final day begins with a plenary session on

the contributions of co-ops to equality, peace, and

sustainability with case studies and examples from

around the world.

For the final session, a panel of speakers will

be asked to summarise discussions held over the

course of the conference, and to elaborate policy


The day will resume with the General Assembly

of the International Co-operative Alliance, which is

open to ICA members. The General Assembly will

begin at 14:00 local time and is expected to adjourn

by 18:30 local time.

The conference will have an exhibition area where

delegates can meet, network, promote their work and

share best practices with other co-ops.

For those keen to explore Kigali, the organisers are

running a series of tours to give them the chance to

lean more about the local history and the role of the

co-operative movement in the country’s economy.


Dr Vandana Shiva,

Paul Kagame,

Ariel Guarco and

Japheth Magomere

26 | SEPTEMBER 2019

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 27

Spotlight on farming

Climate change, sustainability, competition,

volatile prices and Brexit are all putting

agriculture under pressure. What can co-ops do?

The co-op movement is committed to the UN’s sustainable development goals - the

second of which is “zero hunger”, calling for the world to be fed – in a sustainable

manner. It’s ambitious goal, balancing a fair and reliable food supply with the need

to tackle climate change and protect forestry and other delicate ecosystems.

This adds to pressure on an global industry which faces environmental changes,

price volatility, technological advances and fierce market competition. Here, we

look at how agri co-ops are prepared for some of the key issues of the day ...


Severe weather incidents – linked by many to

climate change – are affecting farmers around

the world; last year European dairy co-op Arla

announced it was giving all its profits to farmers hit

by drought and in the US, farm co-ops are taking

measures to help members affected by floods.

In Thailand last month, the ministry of agriculture

and co-operatives announced a programme of

assistance for drought-stricken farmers.

Deputy minister Thammanat Prompao, said

this would mean filling reservoirs through rainmaking

aircraft, and using army technicians to drill

for groundwater. The government will also offer

compensation and debt relief to farmers.

Meanwhile, in India’s Karnataka, Kerala,

Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Goa regions,

farmers are being given help after severe floods.

Alongside mitigation comes prevention.

In India, stubble burning has been a major factor

in severe air pollution affecting cities like Delhi –

but farmers’ co-ops in Haryana, Punjab, UP and NCR

have worked together to reduce the practice.

Trilochan Mohapatra, director general of the

Indian Council of Agricultural Research, says

the coordinated effort by the co-ops saw a huge

reduction in crop residue burning last year – with

nearly 3,500 co-op in the state of Punjab alone

working to check stubble burning in 8,000 paddy

growing villages.

Livestock farming is a particular area of concern,

with the UN estimating that it accounts for 18%

of the greenhouse gases that contribute to

global warming. As reported in Co-op News, agri

co-op organisations like the Scottish Agricultural

Organisation Society (SAOS) are working with

researchers to develop more sustainable animal

feed which will lower emissions.

But co-ops elsewhere have been accused of

being too slow to take up the baton – for instance

By Miles Hadfield

Below: Burning of rice

residues after harvest,

to quickly prepare

the land for wheat

planting, around

Sangrur, Punjab,

India. Credit: Neil

Palmer (CIAT)

28 | SEPTEMBER 2019

in Ireland, where farm co-ops have been urged to

promote the use of protected urea and low-protein

meal. Denis Drennan, chair of the Irish Creamery

Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), said: “We’re

beginning to become a little concerned about the

disconnect between co-ops’ stated position on

the need for more climate-efficient farming and

the reality.

“Increased use of lime and protected urea on

farms alongside using meals with lower crude

protein contents at grass are areas we should focus

on to lower greenhouse gas emissions on farms.

“We do not consider any of those changes to

be controversial among farmers – but we need

co-op support, particularly at the ‘sales’ end, to

encourage their uptake.”

The chairman said that, while there has been

lots of “noisy agreement” from cooperatives on

changes that will have to be made, “at store level

we’re just not seeing the sales staff actively offering

the environmentally safer products and giving

the farmers the positive choices that they should

be offered”.

“We keep seeing sales staff selling feed with

a 16% to 18% crude protein content, when Teagasc

is telling us that 10% to 12% is more than adequate

when at grass.

“Let’s start seeing feed with that content being

really pushed, because that’s an ‘easy win’ for

farmers,” said Drennan.

“There is a perception of a conflict of interest

among co-ops where – on one hand they want to

see milk produced more sustainably, but on the

other hand strive to make easy sales.

“It is only to be expected that individual

salespeople are more concentrated on reaching

their targets rather than offering their customers

the best options that we all know must be actively

promoted,” he continued.

Drennan said that while the ICMSA supports

other climate-friendly measures such as solar

panels and variable speed pumps, there was a prior

need to get the basics right in terms of what was fed

and spread.

“We need to see the co-ops really pushing and

actively promoting feeds with less crude protein

while at grass, and the spreading of protected

urea. And that message has to go down to the sales

staff,” said Drennan.

In New Zealand, leading dairy co-op Fonterra has

pledged action. The government has introduced

a Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon)

Amendment Bill which aims for a 10% reduction in

biological methane by 2030, and 47% by 2050.

Fonterra said it was ‘committed to doing its bit’

in New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon future

but warned about the challenges this would bring

to the farming industry.

CEO Miles Hurrell said: “Kiwi farmers are already

some of the most emission efficient producers of

milk in the world, but the fact is that nearly half of

New Zealand’s greenhouse gases come from the

wider agriculture sector.

“We do not consider any

of those changes to be

controversial among farmers

– but we need co-op support,

particularly at the ‘sales’ end,

to encourage their uptake”

“Our actions today will keep New Zealand at the

forefront of sustainable food production. We know

this means some of the ways we farm will need

to change. Fonterra farmers are adaptable and

resourceful people. Once set a clear science-based

target, they will want to get on with the job and the

co-op will be there to support them.

Above: A worker in an

agricultural field in,

Punjab, India

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 29

“It’s not going to be easy. It will require farmers,

industry, government and researchers to all pitchin

and jointly develop innovative, yet practical

solutions for New Zealand’s emissions reduction

challenges. The increased investment in research

and development signalled by the government and

industry is key to bringing new innovations to life.”

Fonterra argues the 2050 target should be based

on official scientific advice and set at the lower

end of the proposed range – and wants it regularly

reviewed against the science and options available

to farmers.

In the UK, sector body Co-operatives UK has

been working with the Esmee Fairbarn Foundation

– which makes grants to socially beneficial

organisations – to try to put more support in place

for agri co-ops.

Richard Self, agriculture manager at

Co-operatives UK, says Esmee has been focused on

sustainability and wants to carry out research on

how co-ops can help.

“I think it's something we’ve got to look at more,”

he says. “Co-ops need to give leadership to their

members. Members don't always know what's in

their best interest – professional leaders should

look at the market, look at what’s happening

and say this is where you need to be, this where

you should be going. Part of that is sustainable

production and what better way to do that than

through co-operatives?”


“In France, grain co-ops do better because they

own their whole supply chains, their own

mills; if you are going to wave goodbye to your

crop at the door you get the bottom price but

if you control your marketing through a co-op

you're in a stronger position”

The threat of large-scale factory farmers is a real

one for traditional farmers; recently, Eamon Corley

of Ireland’s Beef Plan Movement – a farmerled

campaign to restructure the industry – told

broadcasters the country’s “family farms will be

replaced by factory farms similar to what is in South

America ... Beef farmers are being driven off the

land and we see the problem has been created by

corporate greed.”

Mr Self says strong multinational competitors

are also a concern in the UK – which lags behind

Europe when it comes to the size of its agri

co-op sector.

“We’ve been working with Esmee Fairbarn on

a project to help farmers with co-operation,” he

says. “In terms of market share for co-ops we’re

way out of step with the rest of Europe, and the

rest of the world as well. We don’t make use of

co-operatives like our colleagues do in Europe.

“Our low market share gives the multi nationals

who dominate the market the power to put prices

up or down – and they’ve got no real competition.

“I argued for some support from Esmee Fairbairn

to help with that, and they have asked for research

to show how we’re not making use of the co-op

model, to demonstrate that it has benefits, and to

show how we can go about improving it.”

To that end, Co-operatives UK has commissioned

independent research, due in October, from the

Royal Agricultural University, to support its case for

more support for new and existing agri co-ops.

“There’s evidence that co-ops help farmers

reduce volatility in price and improve returns,” says

Mr Self. “What we don’t want to do is set up loads

of new co-ops that are in competition with existing

ones – but where we identify a need, we can help

develop new businesses.

“From a cost effectiveness point of view, if you

want to grow the co-op market share the best way is

to help existing ones develop. A lot of them are very

risk averse and tend to settle into a situation where

they provide a reasonable service to members and

aren't interested in growth – which is fine if that's

the right thing to do.

Mr Self is also keen to improve perception

of co-operatives, with the agri sector hit by some

high profile failures.

“Some people are being negative about

co-operatives because of a few bad examples,” he

30 | SEPTEMBER 2019

says, “but statistically Co-ops have a much better

survival rate than an ordinary businesses so we

need to show them all the positives case studies

as well. If we can get some more support funding

we can do that.”

Governance is key to improving this repution,

he argues. “We want to help co-ops review their

governance on a systematic basis and not get


He adds: “Some farmers don’t want to get involved

because it’s too much hassle, too much risk ... but

co-ops, unlike individual farmers, have more power

in the supply chain and can negotiate better deals;

a farmer working alone has to take the price he

can get.

“In France, grain co-ops do better because they

often own their whole supply chain, and have their

own mills; if you are going to wave goodbye to your

crop at the door you get the bottom price but if you

control your marketing through a co-op you're in

a stronger position.”

Ruth Edge, chief food chain adviser at the

National Farmers Union, says the industry faces

“hugely challenging times – there’s been huge

uncertainty in the market and obviously that will

affect some sectors more than others”.

And farmers are “under more scrutiny than

ever”. she adds, with pressure on issues such

as the environment, animal welfare, traceability

and productivity.

Collaboration “definitely plays a part” in helping

farmers cope with these challenges, she says,

allowing them to work together to pool resources

and establish benchmarking of standards.

“We wouldn’t necessarily stipulate a co-op

over another format for collaboration, such as a

producer organisation or informal buying group, but

co-ops would definitely be a part of this process”.

she adds.

Asked why the UK lags behind Europe when

it comes to co-operative organisation, she says:

“Certainly, if you look at what’s been acheived

on the continent we haven’t seen that same

take-up within the UK – there are some cultural

differences there.

“And there are some challenges; we are

articulating the benefits of those different

collaborative set-ups to producers but the process

can seem a bit big and bureaucratic and scary.

There are some loops to got through to set up a

co-op, so you might question why you’d want to do

it – but there are benefits.”

To help farmers form co-ops, Ms Edge says “some

kind of support would help” but it’s also important

to demonstrate “concrete reasons” for them to

make the move – whether this is to access funding,

deliver efficiency savings, or offer a route to a new

supply chain.


Another consequence of Brexit is that a that

agriculture ministry Defra has had to delay a £10m

fund to support farmer collaboration, announced

three years ago, to put civil servants onto

Brexit planning.

“We’ve been very positive about that fund,”

says Ms Edge. “We're frustrated it still hasn't

come to fruition; we still have not had that money

come through.”

Mr Self is also keen to see the collaboration fund

move into action.

“They’re starting to pick up on it a bit,” he says.

“This is something I’ve been arguing for since the

referendum, is to say that post Brexit we're going

to need better stronger co-operatives and we need

some support to make it happen.

“In Scotland co-operation is stronger because

they have the Scottish Agricultural Organisation

Society; it shows if you support co-operation for a

long time, it will thrive - and this is what we want

Defra to do.”

He hopes the fund will open in spring or summer

next year, “which would fit nicely with the Esmee

project”, adding: “In five years time I’d like to see

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 31

a scheme to support farm coops in all their forms,

an increased market share – and an agriculture

industry that is surviving.”

“ There are so many variables

when it comes to pricing

commodities but they have

always been there, we just

have to make sure we have

the best produce, priced

correctly. We all have to

perform to the best of our

ability, and I believe we can

do it”

This a concern post-Brexit, says Mr Self. “If they

go for zero tariffs on incoming products it will be

very significant for the sector; a lot of farmers will

not survive that – but also we won’t be a member

of the Common Agricultural Policy and the direct

payments farmers are getting could go away to

nothing by 2025.

“If you take away those payments, something

like 80% of farmers could be losing money. We’ll

be paying high tariffs on expects, we'll have zero

tariffs on imports to reduce food inflation in the

supermarket, plus the removal of payments.”

This situation could stimulate farm co-ops, he

adds. “One reason why we haven't co-operated

so much is because we haven't needed to. Now

farmers are talking about the need to co-operate

more after Brexit. We need to try to use Brexit as an

opportunity - we've got a lot of workshops as part of

research project, to get farmers to think about how

they can work together and have a bigger impact.”

Cecilia Pryce, head of compliance, shipping and

research at grain marketing and arable inputs co-op

Openfield, says there are serious concerns around

Brexit but sounds an optimistic note.

“EU and UK cereals have been trading as an

international commodity for a number of years. If

somebody’s hungry, they’ll pay for grain if it’s the

correct price. If something’s cheaper elsewhere

they’ll go somewhere else. But we in the UK have

full traceability, a fully assured product, fantastic

varieties and can provide most of the things

international buyers want. As much as Europe is

currently and historically has been, our major export

destination, there are other global alternatives.”

But there are still hurdles: if Openfield ships to

more distant markets, economies of scale mean

the ships’ sizes are likely to get bigger – which

could involve switching logistics to deep sea grain

ports away from smaller facilities currently used for

nearby EU shipping.

“There will be a logistics change but I don’t

believe it will be a disaster,” she says. “Yes, there

will be a bigger haulage cost for some, but the

Going green: How Organic

Valley has taken its next

sustainable step

The drive for greener, cleaner agriculture has seen

co-ops around the world make a number of energy

commitments – notably European dairy co-op Arla

with its pledge to go zero-carbon.

Now, in the US, farm co-op Organic Valley has

added its own efforts to this sustainability drive.

It has completed work on three community solar

projects which mean it is now 100% powered

by renewables.

The news makes Organic Valley – which has

nearly 2,000 farmer-owners and annual sales of

nearly US$1.2bn – the largest food company in the

world to source all its energy from renewables – in

line with its mission to help build a sustainable

food system for the USA.

The new solar projects are part of the 32 MWdc

Butter Solar Portfolio, owned and operated by

BluEarth Renewables US, which will provide

23,000 people across 10 Midwest communities,

including six in Organic Valley’s portfolio, with

reduced energy costs for more than 25 years.

The sites will feature grazing sheep and

pollinator habitats under the panels.

Organic Valley has worked on the project with

with OneEnergy Renewables and the Upper

Midwest Municipal Energy Group (Ummeg). In late

2018, BluEarth Renewables acquired Butter Solar

and they began construction in January 2019.

In a blog post on its website, Organic Valley said

there were challenges for its team to overcome in

meeting the ambitious 100% target.

“How would they get it done in ‘flyover country’?”

it asked. “How would they focus on this project in

a rural America that so many said was crumbling?

How could they reach such an audacious goal in so

little time?”

32 | SEPTEMBER 2019

doors aren’t going to close on trade.” What farmers

want, she says, is more certainty as to what and

where their markets will be next year – they have

only a few weeks to decide what to plant for harvest

2020. “It’s a tough time being a farmer,” she adds,

“but if they are willing to engage we can give them

all the information we have.”

Cereal producers could also have to face the

‘unintended consequences’ that may happen to

other sectors of UK agriculture after Brexit. If a trade

deal with the US brings an influx of cheap chicken,

driving UK producers to the wall, grain farmers will

lose a huge market for feed. Conversely, a trade

deal with China could spark a demand for UK pork

exports, stimulating demand for animal feed.

Knowledge is key to handling this volatile

environment, says Ms Pryce. “There are so many

variables when it comes to pricing commodities but

they have always been there, we just have to make

sure we have the best produce, priced correctly.

We all have to perform to the best of our ability,

and I believe we can do it – we just have to be a

bit more streetwise, and be more aware of what's

going on with global prices and how they impact

our markets.”

And against this backdrop, the co-op model

offers farmers an element of security and solidarity,

she says. “I'd like to think it gives them the security

of knowing we look after them. They're individuals,

they're not just numbers. We know who our

members are and we will do our best for them –

global buyers like dealing with first hand grain and

we are here to market their grain the best we can.”

Energy services and technology manager

Stanley Minnick said: “I didn’t know exactly how

it would all work out, but I knew if we just kept

moving forward – and especially if we had the

right partners – we could scale beyond our current

wind, solar and geothermal and get to 100%


The solution came through building a community,

says Organic Valley; it developed its partnerships

with OneEnergy and Ummeg also and brought on

board organisations such as City of Madison, Fresh

Energy, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and

the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund.

“Suddenly,” says Organic Valley, “the project

went beyond Organic Valley’s offices, warehouse

and plants. It meant decades of cheaper energy

from renewable sources for tens of thousands

of rural Americans.”

With solar tariffs due to take effect and the

government preparing to eliminiate tax credits,

the team had to hurry to get the project through on

time, working out power purchase agreements and

renewable energy credits.

But with financial hardship and severe flooding

in the region focusing minds on the benefits of

cheap, clean energy, Organic Valley says the

project picked up more local support. It’s evidence

that community-based, co-operative efforts are an

effective mechanism for driving change.

“People from different backgrounds stepped up.

They started projects of their own, supported by

a group of businesses intent on doing good in the

world. And it’s working. When you drive through

the small town of Viroqua (pop. 4,400), just 15

miles from the solar site, you’ll drive past a National

Co-op Grocers’ food co-operative with solar panels

on its roof, a restaurant that sources almost all of

its food from local farms, and a farmers market that

blows most bigger cities’ markets out of the water.”

It adds: “Rural America has a bright future, and

it’s powered by dreamers and doers who work

together toward big, crazy goals.”

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 33

Co-op agriculture:

Driving change from micro to macro

A growing population, climate change, pressure

on agricultural land and widening food inequality

are driving innovation efforts in agriculture.

As previous editions of the News have reported,

agri co-ops are well-placed to push this process

forward because they have to respond to the

needs of the their members and their farmerowners.

Examples include European co-ops in

Copa-Cogeca’s network pushing forward the

“bioeconomy revolution”, the Scottish Agricultural

Organisation Society working with members to

help them improve preservation of soil quality,

and French dairy co-op Sodiaal channeling multimillion

euro grants from the European Investment

Bank into efficiency research.

Here, we look at three examples of co-ops around

the world driving change – from large scale to small.


Small, isolated communities in developing

countries often face difficulties in sourcing and

paying for food – and one solution is small-scale,

sustainable agriculture – operating right down to

backyard level.

In Tanzania, national newspaper The Citizen

recently highlighted a project in Unyangwe,

a village in the Ikungu district of the Singida

region, which has been struggling to feed itself.

For children under the age of two, malnutrition was

a common problem - prompting villagers to take

action by forming co-ops.

The project has seen locals organise vegetable

gardens and small-scale poultry farms and setting

up village community banks to enable the funding

of projects.

Villagers told the Citizen that vegetable patches

used to be rare sight in the area - but now most

households have them, growing spinach, tomatoes,

kale, courgettes, onions and other veg.

Such small-scale projects are being developed

under the umbrella of UN body World Food

Programme Tanzania. Agnes John, from Ikungu

Municipal Council, which has been working with

WFP Tanzania on the scheme, told the Citizen

that widespread malnutrition had left children

with mineral and vitamin deficiency and stunted

growth, but education around home veg growing

has paid off.

And co-ops have played a crucial role in spreading

the word, allowing villagers to come together and

share experiences and ideas. And by providing

savings and credit services, they also offer them

a mechanism to build a more secure food future

for their community.


In the UK, Community Supported Agriculture is

a multi-stakeholder co-operative network of farms

which works to connect people with the source

of their food.

The project sees farmers and consumers share the

responsibilities, risks and rewards of agriculture –

which can happen in several ways: through ownership

or investment in the farm or business, sharing

the costs of production, accepting a share in the

harvest, or providing labour.

By Miles Hadfield

Below: The traditional

market of fruits and

vegetables in a rural

part of the island

of Zanzibar.

34 | SEPTEMBER 2019

Most of its farms grow veg but some also

produce eggs, poultry, bread, fruit, pork, lamb, beef

and dairy.

It’s a partnership which gives farmers a more

reliable customer base, a steadier income, and

a closer connection to the community - while those

buying the food can eat more healthily, get closer

to the land and learn new skills.

CSA dates back to a Soil Association project

which created around 80 farms in just five years.

When this scheme ended, CSA farm members

decided to continue as an independent organisation

and launched the network in December 2013.

It now works with Open Food Network,

an online community of producers, distributors

and retailers working for a fairer food system

in the UK, and Eating Better, an alliance of

civil society organisations which have teamed

up to reduce, and improve, the amount

of dairy and meat produced and consumed,

“for health, environment, animal welfare and

social justice.

u Info:


In northern Vietnam, farming and forestry are key

industries but because nearly half of householders

own less than a hectare of land, it is hard for them

to earn a living income.

Now, UN agency Forest and Farm Facility (FFF)

is working with the Viet Nam National Farmers’

Union (VNFU) to help these smallholders form

co-ops, in line with the Sustainable Development

Goals – specifically, those aimed at eliminating

poverty, providing decent work and sustainably

managing forests.

The two organisations say that coming together

as co-ops will help smallholders gain organic

certification, invest in new production methods,

improve their negotiating power when making

contracts, and increase the price of their goods.

The initiative has created 14 co-operatives

benefiting directly 650 farmers (45% of them

female), reports the International Press Syndicate

– with incomes rising by 10 to 20%.

FFF and VNFY say co-operation will also help

these smallholders act as stewards of biodiversity,

soil and water, and offer them ways to improve

their resilience, sustainability and productivity.

One of FFF’s key goals is the restoration of forest

environments and the creation of “climateresilient

landscapes”, alongside the alleviation

of hunger, green growth, poverty reduction and

rural development.

Co-ops include Dao Thinh, a cinnamon producing

co-op which offers training in organic growing,

market analysis and product development.

Its growers have visited trade fairs, cut out

middlemen on the market, and made deals with

buyers in Europe and Japan. They have used

their increased income to lease land to build

a processing plant.

Above: Stroud CSA

Below: Cinnamon

produce ready to

be sold

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 35

Price wars, demutualisations,

mergers, climate change

Hard times for dairy co-ops?

Last month saw another high-profile casualty in the

dairy co-op sector, as New Zealand’s Westland was

sold to Chinese company Yili.

This follows a turbulent few years for the dairy

industry, with global prices remaining volatile

and fierce competition for markets – while for

those working in the UK and Ireland, there is the

added uncertainty of Brexit, which threatens to

disrupt operations.

Repercussions for co-ops include the pricing crisis

and subsequent demutualisation of Australia’s

Murray Goulburn – a major, long-standing player in

the sector – and a large number of consolidations.

Last month in the US, the 300-member St Albans

Cooperative Creamery, with farms in Vermont,

New York and New Hampshire, merged with Dairy

Farmers of America, which has 8,100 farms across

the country and is based in Kansas City. It had been

struggling with low milk prices for several years and

saw a net loss of 20 farms from its membership,

leaving it with too low a capacity to compete in

the market. St Albans’s members voted 99% in

favour of the move, which will bring much needed

investment from DFA.

“It is absolutely necessary.

The present situation in

Latvia – 33 dairy co-ops

– in such a small territory

is absurd. It is not the future”

In Ireland, LacPatrick and Lakeland co-op

merged, and Dairygold co-op has cited Brexit

concerns as it signalled its willingness to talk with

potential merger partners.

Such mergers can help co-ops pool resources

and gain more leverage in the market. For

instance, Latvian dairy co-operative Piena Cels

has just announced plans to merge with Estonian

co-op E-Piim so they can jointly invest €100m in

a new dairy plant in Estonia for processing milk.

The plans – backed by EU funds, a bank loan and

private investments – will allow dozens of small

co-ops to improve their market position.

“It is absolutely necessary. The present situation

in Latvia – 33 dairy co-operatives – in such a small

territory is absurd. It is not the future,” said Piena

Cels chair Raimonds Misa.

The troubles affecting the dairy industry are

highlighted by New Zealand dairy co-op Fonterra,

which expects to make a reported loss of NZ$590-

675m (£310-355m) for the year to 31 July.

The loss – which has forced Fonterra to axe this

year’s dividend – comes from a mixture of factors.

The co-op hit trouble with its drive for overseas

expansion, which has seen it close a business in

Venezuela and suffer impairments on a Brazilian

venture. It has also been impacted by domestic

competition and environmental factors, with

a drought hitting its Australian operations.

Drought has also affected the industry in Europe,

with dairy co-op Arla handing all its profits to

members hit by last year’s heatwave. This points

to climate change hitting the agri sector with

a double whammy, putting pressure on them to

reduce greenhouse emissions on the one hand,

and bringing more uncertain weather conditions on

the other.

But leading lights of the co-op movement say the

model remains a resilient one, well-placed to help

farmers ride out uncertainties in the market.

Craig Presland, chief executive of apex body

Co-operative Business New Zealand, says he has no

long-term concern that either of the country’s two

remaining dairy co-ops – Fonterra, which produces

around 82% of the country’s milk, and Tatua Dairy,

which produces around 1%, will demutualise.

He says the co-op model remains an effective

mechanism for farmers to get a good price for

their milk while minimising the cost of inputs.

But he also cites analysis of Westland’s downfall

By Miles Hadfield

36 | SEPTEMBER 2019

y farming expert Keith Woodford, which says

co-ops must also ensure there is enough money

left over for capital expenditure, and put good

governance in place so managers cannot harm the

co-op’s stability in the pursuit of growth.

In his study, Mr Wodford wrote: “Quite simply,

the Westland co-operative got itself into a dreadful

mess with too much debt and a non-competitive

milk price relative to other companies.

“The root of that problem has been steadily

developing over the last 17 years. Once Westland

got on the slippery path, it could not find its way

back to firm ground.”

He points to poor decisions, including “the first

big mistake ... they stayed with a traditional capital

structure of cheap shares with no capital gain. The

mantra was ‘cheap-in and cheap-out’.”

And when Westland saw opportunity for growth,

it did not address the issue of funding the necessary

“Placing too higher portion

of earnings into annual milk

payouts, and not retaining

enough for future capital

projects and/or investments,

can only lead to increased

bank borrowings which can

prove to be disastrous”

increase in processing capacity. “Westland got

carried away with reliance on debt,” he writes.

“It became a slippery path.”

Even in 2009, he says, “there was time to

change the policy and require new production to

be equity funded at say NZ$4 (£2)or thereabouts.

But it did not happen ... I remain puzzled as to why

Westland’s external directors did not argue for

increased capital contributions. Perhaps they did,

but if so, they did not argue hard enough.”

This failure presents lessons for the wider

dairy co-op sector. He says: “The challenge is to

balance capital retentions with annual payouts

appropriately, while prudently investing in capital

projects such as new or upgraded plants. This will

ensure volumes can be processed efficiently and

into value add products, while investments must

provide returns above the weighted average cost

of capital.

“Placing too higher portion of earnings into

annual milk payouts, and not retaining enough for

future capital projects and/or investments, can

only lead to increased bank borrowings which can

prove to be disastrous.”

He argues that any problems that do occur

point not to flaws in the co-op model but to a lack

of “wise decision making, good governance and

effective leadership”.

But in Ireland, a different row is being waged over

milk prices – with dairy farmers saying they have

been underpaid by their co-ops.

In April, the Irish Farmers’ Association said

farmers were receiving the same prices they were

paid in 1995, despite “massive investments made

by farmers and industry to improve milk quality and

lift our product mix further up the value chain”.

Gerald Quain, chair of ICMSA’s dairy committee,

said such prices were significantly lower than

the European average; with feed and fodder

costs on the rise, this is putting a squeeze on

dairy producers.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 37

Cannabis and co-ops,

from farming to banking

The legalisation of cannabis in Canada and several

US states has created business opportunities for

growers – and also for finance providers, with

traditional banks reluctant to serve the industry.

The drug is still illegal at federal level in the USA,

but it has been legalised for recreational use in

the states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois,

Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon,

Vermont, along with Washington DC, the Northern

Mariana Islands and Guam.

At federal level, some of its derivative

compounds have been approved by the Food and

Drug Administration for prescription use.

In Canada, cannabis has been legal for medical

purposes since 2001 and for recreational use since

March 2018.

This has helped create a growing, lucrative

market: the industry generated US$12.2bn

(£7.5bn), which could rise to more than

$30bn (£18.6bn) in global sales by 2022, and

up to $75bn (£46m) by 2030. Industry website

Cannabiz says there are 43,000 licensed cannabis

and 12,000 licensed hemp operations in the US,

across 41 states and 14 international markets.

To take advantage of this, growers have been

forming co-ops to produce and sell the drug.

The co-op model offers the ability for small growers

to scale up and compete with bigger rivals – with

large corporations expected to enter the market.

It also helps them to maintain transparency in

their operations, and pool resources to negotiate

the complex regulations around the fledgeling

industry. These can include minimum distances

from schools and residences, and rules around

security, light pollution and odour from farms.

For instance, in British Colombia, Canada,

provincial law restricts growers to a 195 sq metre

production limit; an independent marketplace is

also forbidden, with all distribution made through

the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. Licences are

By Miles Hadfield

38 | SEPTEMBER 2019

expensive – with a CA$23,000 (14,100) regulatory

fee, a $3,000 (£1,800) application fee and

a $1,700 (£1,000) security fee. In response, industry

specialist Grow Tech Labs and business incubator

Victory Square Technologies have launched

a cannabis co-op to help small producers in the

province navigate the legal terrain.

“Hopefully the craft cannabis

cooperative will be a brand

identity that people will

look for and will benefit all

of our farmers. This is going

to help farmers who are

hoping to diversify”

To cut costs and red tape, growers in the province

are sharing land; the Kootenay Outdoor Producers

Co-op is planning a demo farm, where it will expand

into edible and fibre production, with plans to take

its model to 60 more farms.

Legalisation has brought bigger players from

Canada’s co-op sector into the field, with Calgary

Co-op, one of the largest retail co-ops in North

America, forming a Co-op Cannabis division,

operating separate stores selling dried cannabis,

cannabis oil, and accessories.

Growers in the US are also drawn to the co-op

model; in Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts, the craft

marijuana co-op has been included as a licensing

category by regulators – although some town

councils have imposed a moratorium on growers.

Among those formed to take advantage of the rule

is Farm Bug Co-op, which is lobbying legislators to

ensure that co-ops under licence must abide by the

seven co-operative principles.

“We were concerned about some big company

coming in and calling themselves a co-operative,”

Marty Dagoberto of the Northeast Organic Farming

Association told local news site Valley Advocate.

“I feel co-ops are the way of the future as far as

a democratically controlled local economy goes.”

And in Conway, John Moore and Lisa Gustavsen of

Roaring Glen Farms are looking to set up a cannabis

co-op. “There are so many farmers who are having

to leave their farms, they can’t make a living,” they

told local news site Greenfield Recorder. “This

could be a magic bullet for all the abandoned farms

and dairy farms in the western part of the state.”

But cannabis co-ops face another hurdle: where

to put their money, with many players in the banking

sector unwilling to help because they are subject to

federal law, which maintains a ban on the drug.

This has prompted cannabis businesses to turn

to credit unions, although they often face a waiting

list before being accepted as members, and must

go through costly background and licence checks.

Last month, the chair of regulator the National

Credit Union Administration said credit unions

won’t be sanctioned for serving cannabis-related

businesses in states where the drug is legal – with

Congress considering legislation that would allow

banks to take on cannabis-related customers.

US Treasury figures in 2018 found 375 traditional

banks and 111 credit unions accepting business

from the cannabis industry. This number is growing

– Treasury figures in July found that in the first half

of 2019, the number of credit unions servicing

cannabis businesses had risen by 20%.

But it’s still unfamiliar territory. Last month,

Alaska’s Credit Union 1 announced it was ending

a pilot project which had seen it work with four

cannabis businesses. Chief executive James

Wileman said businesses could not continue the

programme beyond a pilot phase without liability

coverage, adding that the pilot had not performed

as well as expected.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 39

Social entrepreneur and author Sam Conniff

Allende is guest speaker at the Social Business

Wales Conference this month. He will be discussing

ideas from his new book, Be More Pirate, which

sets out radical ideas for challenger businesses to

take on their conventional rivals. “The original

purpose-driven business model was the co-op

movement,” he writes, “and before there was the

co-operative movement, there were pirates.”

He adds: “As capitalism continues its existential

crisis and global leadership disappears even

further up its own arse, this truly is the time for

social business to show it’s courage, ambition

and imagination.

“We have the answers, we have the evidence and

we have the leaders: it’s time to make sure your

story is heard. I’m proud and excited to be coming

back to Wales to share my message, meet with

my comrades in Social Business and return to the

homeland of the pirates, who I think all of us can

draw real inspiration from in times like these.”

How did you get interested in pirates ; who is

your favourite - and why?

My favourite is Anne Bonny, born Anne

McCormac in 1702. By setting off to sea she broke

one of the most universally enforced rules of society

that says women are not fully autonomous human

beings, with rights and abilities equal to those

of men. As a father to two young daughters I am

acutely aware that gender inequality is something

they will face; the courage of Anne Bonny reminds

me that change is possible – but it will require us

to take risks.

How were pirates the original co-operators?

It could be argued that pirates were the world's first

equal opportunity employers; alongside women,

they also embraced same-sex couples and ethnic

minority crew members. They set great store in

community, working towards a set of principles

(the pirate code) and sharing resources equally.

Unlike today where some CEOs earn up 100

times more than the average worker, the captain

of a pirate ship would typically only receive two to

four times as much as the crew.

Why do we need pirates today – as much as we

did 300 years ago?

We are at an interesting juncture in history, where

businesses and organisations need to think

seriously about their role in society. With the

climate crisis, political disruption and automation

ahead of us, there is now a lot more at stake than

simply growing your company to make more

money, and consumers are increasingly aware of

this. The organisations that leap ahead, I think,

will be those that are willing to take risks, fight for,

shout about, and visibly live their principles.

What is the link between the Pirate Code and

co-op values and principles?

The pirate codes that have been recorded, by and

large, set out many of the same principles found

in the co-operative movement: open membership,

democratic structure, autonomy for members,

economic participation, co-operation with other

co-ops (other pirate crews). It’s quite remarkable.

Given that renowned pirates like Henry Morgan

were from Wales and grew up close to Newtown

where Robert Owen was born, it is not too much

of a stretch to believe that ideas born at sea were

transferred back to land.

What can co-ops and social businesses today

learn from pirates of the past – particularly

in terms of organising, and the delegation of

power and responsibility?

Co-ops embody many of the principles seen

in pirate codes, so actually I’d say that it’s not

organisational and power structures that they

can learn from pirates. It’s storytelling. Pirates

were masters at using their brand to achieve their

objectives – which, contrary to popular opinion

(and Disney), was survival, not violence. Pirates

made sure the message was clear and singular,

and they understood that the medium was just as

powerful as the message itself. I’ve worked with a

lot of small businesses and social enterprises doing

incredible things around the circular economy and

economic justice, but they haven’t quite nailed

getting their message heard by the world. I think

that the same could be said of co-ops.

How can ordinary people find their inner pirate?

Do you have five tips?


Be less predictable: if you’re not yet ready to launch

a rebellion then simply start by stepping outside of

your comfort zone. We’re far too tied to our habits and

routines, so go in search of unchartered territories

– whatever that means for you. Although it’s been

said by many a self-help guru, exercising this muscle

regularly makes it much less scary to step up when

there’s something to really fight for.


Know what you will fight for: in my experience, most

people aren’t sure – which is why, when it comes to

the crunch, we struggle to make decisions or take

action on important issues. When you know, work

out how to demonstrate it. Our values are only real

when we apply them.


Find your crew: the strength of pirates was the crew,

and the high levels of trust and accountability that

bonded them together. It is a lonely road to create

change alone, but small groups of committed people

can change the world.


Redistribute power: pirates redistributed power

because they understood how much it corrupts. But

power is fluid and comes in many forms, not just

through traditional leadership. We all hold informal

power in our skills, connections and knowledge, and

you can shift the balance of power when you educate,

listen to and trust others.


Keep it simple: For a generation that’s increasingly

time poor, there are far too many long boring strategy

papers in existence that will never be read. Focus

instead on small, bold actions that will make a

difference. Clear the decks of pointless process and

work with less resources, just as pirates did.

The Social Business Wales Conference is organised by the

Wales Co-operative Centre, and takes place at Venue Cymru

in Llandudno, on 25 September.

More details at




By Rebecca Harvey



qRahel Mhabuka,

tea worker at Kibena

Tea Estate, Tanzania.

Credit: Simon Rawles

In 1994 Cafédirect, Clipper and Green & Blacks

launched the first products carrying the

Fairtrade Mark in the UK. In the lead-up to the

25th anniversary we spoke with Sarah Wakefield

(food sustainability manager, Co-op Group), Julia

Nicoara (director of public engagement, Fairtrade

Foundation) and Ed Mayo (secretary general,

Co-operatives UK) to look at how the movement

has impacted co-ops – and what the future holds.

Fairtrade has come a long way in 25 years; it works

with over 1.6 million farmers and workers (23% of

whom are women) in more than 1,400 Fairtrade

producer organisations across 73 countries.

Co-operatives UK’s Ed Mayo was instrumental in

the birth of the Fairtrade Mark. “My family was a

regular user of produce from the alternative trade

organisation, Traidcraft, and their recycled toilet

paper ruled at home when I was a child,” he says.

“I was a couple of years out of university,

working for development campaign group WDM,

when I met two people thinking big about global

justice. Martin Newman was at the creative

agency Imagination and Richard Adams was

co-founder of Traidcraft. Richard was concerned

about a crisis in traditional Fairtrade produce

and the need to find new consumers for highquality

products. Martin was seized with the idea

of a mainstream consumer label as a guarantee of

provenance in terms of producer benefits.”

Mr Mayo joined a small team which developed

the concept. The Fairtrade Mark that resulted

drew lessons from Max Havelaar coffee, sold in the

Netherlands and co-developed by the UCIRI co-op

in Mexico, but added explicit criteria that could be

accredited to make Fairtrade possible anywhere.

Mr Mayo worked on the first draft of these criteria

with Belinda Coote (then of Oxfam) and helped to

shape the brand identity, coining the term Fairtrade

as a single word that could be trademarked.

“Almost all Fairtrade is co-operative and the best

of it connects co-operatives through the supply

chain, from producers through to retail co-ops.

Fairtrade is essentially a co-op brand,” he says.

The Co-op Group’s Sarah Wakefield has

been involved in Fairtrade since she set up a

42 44 | | SEPTEMBER AUGUST 2019 2019

campaign group at the age of 14. She joined the

Group’s graduate scheme after looking for an

ethical business to work for.

She believes the Co-op has been involved in

Fairtrade since the start because of its members.

“Some of the core Fairtrade campaigners are also

Co-op members. And those people have been at

the core of why we were involved as a co-op so

early, and also in generating the energy that made

Fairtrade a national and now global movement.”

She adds: “At the Co-op, we believe Fairtrade

is the gold standard because of its additional

requirements around price, premium and producer

voice. The Fairtrade minimum price is determined

not by us, but by an independent organisation.

“The premium is also set independently – and

feeds into the third element, producer voice. How

the premium is spent is determined by the local

communities. And that is really important, because

sitting here in Manchester, we do not know the full

needs of a small cocoa producer in the Ivory Coast.”

Recent analysis by the Fairtrade Foundation,

conducted by GlobeScan, shows Fairtrade is still

the most visible ethical label in the UK. But, says

the Foundation’s Julia Nicoara, “it is vital that we

maintain visibility because that’s what drives the

most impact for farmers and workers.

“The one thing all farmers and workers in our

system need is to sell more of their goods under

Fairtrade terms, because if there is not enough

consumer demand, they have no choice but to sell

their products at a loss to the conventional market.”

She adds: “When there are lots of products with

the Fairtrade Mark on our shelves we all benefit.

Consumers know our standards have been met

and more producers get higher prices – this is a

virtuous circle, but it only works when businesses

source Fairtrade goods and we buy them.”

One challenge is the growth in alternative food

assurance labels, from the Rainforest Alliance (an

NGO which works “at the intersection of business,

agriculture, and forests to make responsible

business the new normal”) to retailers’ in-house

certifications such as Sainsbury’s Fairly Traded.

“When we launched it, the Fairtrade Mark

offered an entirely new proposition,” says Ed Mayo.

“There are now over 100 different food assurance

labels on the market, but in reality many offer only

an ‘ethics lite’ approach and the sheer number

of labels baffles and bamboozles most consumers.

The Fairtrade Mark has been copied and hasn’t

been perfect but in footballing terms, it remains

the Lionel Messi of ethical labels.”

Sarah Wakefield adds: “More labels is not

making it easy for people to make decisions. In

terms of why it’s happening, it’s complicated and

depends on the organisation making that decision.

“Fairtrade is challenging to conventional

business models. It’s a radical way of organising

a supply chain that takes control out of your hands.

I think this is a good thing as it puts more in the

hands of producers. But I think that is challenging

for other organisations, it’s a loss of control.”


Ms Wakefield is adamant there should be no change

to the Fairtrade model. “We’re seeing issues today

that still speak to why Fairtrade is important. Take

the coffee price crisis – for all those coffee farmers

not receiving the Fairtrade minimum price, they

are now receiving below the cost of production for

that coffee. It demonstrates why even after 25 years,

Fairtrade still has a very relevant model.

“We need to articulate this more clearly, remind

people why they got so fired up about Fairtrade in

the first place, and be really challenging of other

organisations who choose a different approach.”

Julia Nicoara agrees: “While we celebrate 25

years, it’s important to remember that Fairtrade

does not just represent certification, but also a

global grassroots movement that constantly seeks

to improve, to drive greater value for farmers and

workers. This is why we are about more than the

Mark, and we go beyond certification.”

qTeresa Kurgat,

tea farmer and

member of Sireet

OEP co-op Kenya

Credit: Simon Rawles

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 43



Civilising Rural Ireland by Patrick Doyle – Hallsworth research fellow at the University

of Manchester – looks at introduction of co-operative societies into the Irish countryside from

the late 19th century – and the influence of the movement on the emering nation state. Here,

he discusses the co-operative transformation of the Irish countryside

Horace Plunkett

Credit: National Photo Company Collection - Library of Congress

Civilising Rural Ireland presents a study of a

movement that shaped the social, economic, and

political fabric of modern Ireland. Tracing the

introduction of agricultural co-operative societies

to an Ireland that experienced social unrest,

violence, and eventual political independence, the

book looks at the lives of ordinary men and women

who joined the movement started a revolution in

the countryside.

The establishment of the Irish co-operative

movement in the late 19th century transformed

rural society. Led by the Irish social reformer,

Horace Plunkett, promoted by the poetic visionary

George William Russell (also known as Æ), and

with origins firmly located within a wider Irish

cultural revival, the co-operative movement’s

objectives went far beyond the creation of new

businesses in the countryside – it aimed at

a social revolution.

For Plunkett, the Irish Question was not just

about politics. He witnessed the polarisation of

political camps in Ireland between nationalism

and unionism with distress. Instead he framed the

Irish Question as an economic one.

He wrote: “The Irish Question is, then the

problem of a national existence, chiefly an

agricultural existence, in Ireland. To outside

observers it is the question of rural life, a question

which is assuming a social and economic

importance and interest of the most intense

character, not only for Ireland North and South,

but for almost the whole civilised world.”

The co-operative movement, he argued,

offered the basis for a more positive ordering

of social relations within Ireland. Co-operative

creameries, credit societies, and agricultural

stores modernised agriculture, but also paved

the way for a more democratic economy that

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 44

placed ownership of agribusiness directly in the

hands of farmers.

The book traces, among other things, how

farmers overcame opposition to the establishment

of co-operative businesses from local traders,

private creamery owners, and politicians and even

managed to survive a campaign of co-ordinated

attacks from Crown forces during the disturbed

years of 1920 and 1921 – a period known as the War

of Independence.

Importantly, the book also recounts how the

growth of the Irish agricultural co-operative

movement exerted a profound effect on the

movement in Britain under the leadership

of the Co-operative Wholesale Society

(CWS). Almost immediately after the first cooperative

creamery was established, a new

source of tension emerged between Irish and

British co-operators to add to the long list

of strains that have existed on these islands.

The CWS operated several depots in Ireland,

buying as it did the produce of Irish farmers –

especially butter – to supply the hundreds of

co-operative shops that existed throughout the

UK in the late 19th century. The CWS’s focus on

attaining the cheapest price possible in order to

pass savings onto members in Britain’s towns

and cities came at a cost to Irish farmers. Irish

produce proved so central to the working of British

co-operative businesses that Percy Redfern, the

first historian of the British co-operative movement

commented that the CWS “grew fat on butter and

Ireland was the source of the supply”.

The introduction of the creamery separator and

competition from farmers in Denmark incentivised

the CWS’s greater involvement in the production

process in order to benefit their membership

base. Thus, the first co-operative creamery was

organised on behalf of the CWS in Drumcollogher,

County Limerick, in 1889. The principal figures

behind its establishment were WL Stokes, who

worked as the CWS’s Limerick agent, and butter

merchant, Robert Gibson.

When Horace Plunkett established the Irish

Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) in Dublin

in 1894, a race to become the chief organisational

force of co-operators across Ireland began in

earnest and very quickly became toxic. Under

the IAOS Irish co-operators looked to maximise

the return to farmers and therefore looked

to sell the same produce at as high a price as

possible. The interests of producer and consumer

– both defined as co-operators – proved to be

somewhat incompatible.

An ideological fracture between the IAOS and

CWS soon erupted when each attempted to gain

control of the creamery sector and over a decade

of hostility and economic rivalry played out across

the Irish countryside – directing resources from

both movements that might otherwise have helped

to build on both organisations’ achievements.

In August 1901, Plunkett presided over the

National Co-operative Festival at Crystal Palace

and used the platform to attack the involvement

of the British co-operative movement in Ireland.

In front of delegates gathered from across the

UK, Plunkett argued that the British version

of creamery organisation offered little in the

way of the co-operative spirit when applied

to Ireland. The CWS creameries saw “farmers

supply their milk as they do to any other capitalist

who gives them their price, but in which they

have no share in either management or profit,

in which they take no pride, in which they learn

no lesson”.

An economic war of attrition continued for the

next decade. IAOS and CWS organisers slandered

one another as they tried to convince farmers join

their version of the co-operative creamery. In the

end the Manchester-based CWS decided to cut

its losses. In 1909, the CWS ceded the territory

around creameries to the IAOS, having shared,

in the rather ill-spirited reflections of Redfern,

“the common experience of those Englishmen

who seek to pave the bogs of Ireland with

good intentions”.

The book will be of interest for those readers

who want to gain a deeper appreciation of the

ways in which co-operators on these islands

collaborated and competed with one another

– and in so doing illuminates the complex and

sometimes uncomfortable relationship that

existed, and will continue to exist, between Ireland

and Britain.

Info on the book can be found at

y6o8qdz6; our book review is on page 48

Cutting and carting

turf at a bog near

Kiltoom, County


ca. 1903 Credit:

National Photo

Company Collection

- Library of Congress

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 45



The Irish co-op sector has been crying out for reform – but what form will this take, and why is it

taking so long? Paul Gosling investigates

Co-operative legislation in Ireland is set for a major

overhaul, but the slow pace of decision-making is

leaving uncertainty for the sector.

It was back in 2016 that the Co-operative

Legislation Unit at the country’s Department of

Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation initiated a review

of the relevant laws – the Industrial and Provident

Societies Acts that date from the 1890s and which

have since repeatedly updated. These changes

comprise what the department has referred to as

“piecemeal amendments” to “what is a largely

Victorian statutory code”.

The intention is to at the least codify, and

probably substantially re-write, that old legislation.

A spokeswoman for what is now the Department of

Business, Enterprise and Innovation says: “The

department is undertaking a root and branch

review of the Industrial and Provident Societies

Acts 1894-2018. It is intended to bring forward a

General Scheme of a Bill which will consolidate

and modernise the existing legislation by the end

of year.”

“A distinction is also required within the

legislation between different types of co-ops,

that is between larger, more business-oriented

co-operatives and those co-operatives who are

owned and run by a group of people wishing to

serve a social or environmental need”

Ten responses were submitted to the consultation

exercise, but the nature of these varied.

Accountancy body ACCA was concerned that

the disclosure and governance requirements for

industrial and provident societies are less rigorous

than for companies. It also expressed concern that

the register of industrial and provident societies is

not up to date.

In its submission, the Centre for Co-operative

Studies at University College Cork focused on the

co-operative concept – seeking changes to the

name of the law to include the word ‘co-operative’;

creating a separate category for employee-owned/

workers’ co-operatives; and to reduce the required

minimum number of members from seven to three.

Co-operative Housing Ireland similarly sought

a reduction in the required number of members

to three, while co-operative development body

Co-operation Works proposed the minimum

number to be reduced to just two.

The Society for Co-operative Studies Ireland –

whose members include Co-operative Alternatives

of Northern Ireland and the Co-operative Forum

of Northern Ireland – is another that called for the

name of the new legislation to include the word

‘co-operative’ and to provide clearer definitions to

the co-operative identity.

“A distinction is also required within the

legislation between different types of co-operatives,

that is between larger, more business-oriented

co-operatives and those co-operatives who are

owned and run by a group of people wishing to

serve a social or environmental need,” it says.

SCSI also wants small co-ops to be exempted

from the legal requirement for external audit in the

same way as small companies.

ICOS – the Irish Co-operative Organisation

Society – called for stronger rules for governance

in IPSAs, while urging that company law is not

adopted wholesale for co-ops. Its submission

states: “While some elements of company law are

necessarily applicable to a co-operative, to use

a blanket approach would subvert the unique

characteristics and ethos of a co-operative.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 46

“ICOS believes any changes to the IPS Acts

must protect and respect both the principles and

practices of the co-operative model.”

ICOS believes that IPSA law should not create

greater compliance burdens than company law.

James Doyle, a spokesman for ICOS, says he

expects proposed legal changes to include the

codification of committee member duties to provide

for comparable responsibilities under company

law; a “revamp” of protections for stakeholders,

including shareholders and workers; and the

consolidation of the various acts into a single piece

of legislation. It also hopes the financial reporting

framework will be modernised, including by

allowing comparable audit exemptions to those

available for companies.

ICOS wants other modernisation measures.

Mr Doyle says: “The modern world is a busy

place. Time is precious and communication

is increasingly instantaneous. That said, the

co-op model is rooted in personal engagement

and co-decision. To do that it has always been

necessary to facilitate the coming together of

shareholders and their elected leadership. This

principle has featured in co-operative rule books

where for example proxy voting is typically

prohibited. Securing a legal framework that

validates the use of technology to enhance, rather

than subvert, member participation and control

would be a positive outcome.”

He adds: “Co-operative ownership and the

rights that go with that ownership warrant proper

expression in the new legislation. The common law

has spoken on some of these issues which is helpful

when the existing statute is as outdated as it is.

“But there is more work to be done. ICOS is

hopeful that the outcome of the legislative process

will provide a solid basis for any co-operative

enterprise to thrive in a manner that serves the

needs and interests of its members.”

But the consultation process is proving slow

and “frustratingly opaque”, according to academic

Patrick Doyle, author of Civilising rural Ireland.

“This is a piece of legislation that has fallen

down the priority list due to Brexit and the distinct

possibility there may be a general election in the

near future – but that is a hunch,” he says. “I’m

increasingly concerned that it might only be

minor adjustment of existing legislature – perhaps

updating language and likely to be cosmetic.

“I also fear that it will be written from the

perspective of a managed decline of the sector.

Obviously I hope that isn’t the case. To be honest

I think this is probably a once in a generation

opportunity to effect some positive and purposeful

change in the co-op sector.”

He adds: “In a highly aspirational sense I would

personally like to see an emphasis placed on

trying to achieve greater social value in public

sector procurement – a la Preston – and using

co-operatives to deliver on a range of public service

contracts. I believe if Ireland is to have its own

iteration of a Green New Deal then co-ops can play

a central part in building the necessary economy.

I see the Co-op Party Northern Ireland manifesto as

an incredibly useful document for helping to think

through a lot of these issues.”

With the prospect of an Irish general election

in the near future, it is reassuring that all the

major political parties in Ireland are supportive of

co-operatives. Current governing party Fine Gael’s

last manifesto expressed support for energy co-ops

and shared ownership renewable energy projects.

Fianna Fáil – which is well placed to lead the next

government – declared in its manifesto support for

co-ops, particularly as part of rural development.

And the Green Party – which might be

members of a future coalition government – has

pledged to “facilitate the creation of co-operative

businesses” and “introduce legislation to facilitate

the conversion of private business into workerowned


Whether this cross-party support translates its

way into the forthcoming legal changes is unclear.

It is possible that legislation may be introduced

before the general election – a date for which has

not yet been set. And if the legislation is delayed

until after the election, its character may be

influenced by the composition of the government,

given the different focus of the main parties.

A coalition containing the Green Party is most

likely to commit to radical pro-co-op measures.

But those might be separate from a process that

is mostly designed to consolidate and modernise

existing legislation.

The seat of the Irish

government also

known as Leinster

House. Both the

lower (Dail) and

higher (Seanad)

chamber meet here.

SEPTEMBER 2019 | 47


The co-op movement and its role in the ‘Irish Question’


rural Ireland -

The co-operative



and the nation

-state, 1889


Patrick Doyle,



Press (£80)

Did the experience of economic freedom coincide

with a demand for political freedom in Ireland in

the early twentieth century? Patrick Doyle’s book

explores the co-operative movement’s role played

in conceptualising the Irish nation state.

The book traces the movement’s progress

from the establishment of the first co-operative

creamery in 1889 through to the creation of

a network of creameries, credit societies and

agricultural stores under the umbrella of the Irish

Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS).

Horace Plunkett, the founder of the IAOS,

summarised the co-operative movement’s

objectives as “better farming, better business and

better living”. In spite of Plunkett being an Anglo-

Irish unionist, his co-operative ideals became

popular among Sinn Féin ideologues.

At the time the Irish and British co-operative

movements aggressively competed with one

another in a race to control the Irish dairy industry.

Furthermore, widespread emigration in the late 19th

century alongside the present spectre of famine led

Plunkett to conclude that rural Ireland stood on the

precipice of a demographic catastrophe. He believed

that only a thorough co-operative reorganisation of

the Irish countryside would raise living standards

and halt the flow of emigration.

Under Plunkett’s leadership the IAOS promoted

a distinct and radical form of democratic economics.

Co-ops helped to address common problems

that faced farmers such as the need to access

new agricultural technologies and to expand the

availability of credit. Co-operative societies also

facilitated the adoption of new technologies

throughout the rural economy. For example, the

spread of creamery separators transformed Irish

dairy production and provided the means for

dairy farmers to remain competitive with their

international counterparts.

The book notes that the co-operative movement

in Ireland remained confined to the countryside

and failed to make significant advances into

urban centres. The end of 1950s witnessed

a renaissance in the co-operative credit movement,

followed by a rapid growth, of the credit

union movement.

Doyle argues that the emergence of co-ops in

food retail and brewery proves that the model still

plays an important part in imagining how the Irish

economy might develop once again.

Be More Pirate

Sam Conniff Allende

(Penguin Books, £10)

Are co-ops the new pirates?

Can businesses learn from the pirates of the 17th

and 18th century? Social entrepreneur and author

Sam Conniff Allende seems to think so, from his look

at how, 300 years ago, a group of rebels from the

Merchant and Royal Navies went rogue.

He encourages social businesses to learn from

them and become today’s disruptors. “Pirates didn’t

just break rules, they rewrote them,” he says.

Pirates were the first equal opportunity employer,

he adds, developing a social code based on

principles such as fair play, equality and freedom.

He thinks today’s world faces similar challenges,

with power concentrated in the hands of a “selfinterested

political and business elite”.

While noting that some of the progress in

the late 20th century democratised humankind

for the best, the book warns of new challenges

such as environmental degradation, economic

disintegration, unprecedented levels of human

migration and the rise of the robots.

The book dismantles some popular clichés about

pirates while examining their innovations – and

argues that some of their systems, beliefs and

attitudes might provide valuable lessons for today’s

social businesses.

The book specifically refers to pirates who

operated between 1690 and 1725, a period known

as the Golden Age of Piracy. The British Empire had

started taking shape under Queen Elizabeth I, driven

by her policy on privateering, whereby some private

ships would sail under a royal letter of marque

providing they granted a cut of the treasures to the

palace. The author points out that these privateers

were often pirates.

Pirates questioned and challenged the

established order and the status quo. Sailors of

the 17th century were self-employed, having learnt

their trade, and pirates offered them wealth and fair

trade. Ships also functioned on a one pirate, one

vote rule. Furthermore, argues Mr Conniff Allende,

records show that the Golden Age pirates set

aside a portion of everything the stole to serve as

compensation for when comrades got wounded in

action. Every crew member was given compensation

for lost limbs or eyes and those unable to continue

to engage in raids would be found other positions.

The book encourages readers to find a cause for

rebellion and act as an agent for change, seeking

to re-write rules to achieve positive change. Most

importantly, it argues, social businesses must

stay true to their values and leverage the power

of storytelling, just like the pirates did.

48 | SEPTEMBER 2019



FORUM 2019


7 November 2019


Co-op Connection Study visits Suma

12 Sep; Practitioners Forum 2019

7 Nov; Co-operative Party Conference

11-13 Oct; and the Community Energy

Awards take place in London on 18 Oct

A series of specialist forums: communications

finance governance HR and membership

12 Sep: Co-op Connections Study

Visit - Suma

Suma’s Ross Hodgson will shed some

light how the equal-pay co-op combines

its hugely successful vegetarian food

operations with egalitarian processes

across its workforce. Discover how a flat

management structure and equal pay

across the entire organisation works

in practice.

WHERE: Address provided

upon registration



11-13 Oct: Co-operative Party Conference

The annual event will include

debates on policy; Q&As with elected

representatives from the UK, Scottish

and Wales parliaments and councils

across the UK; a series of informative

and constructive workshops and

examples of best practice from

local co-ops. There are networking

opportunities, and members can

take part in the Party’s diversity

networks (including BAME, disability,

LGBT+, women and youth).

WHERE: Doubletree, Glasgow


Mix and match across forums to create

a bespoke programme of learning

4-17 Oct: ICA Co-operatives for

Development Global Conference

A fantastic professional development

The conference will be structured around

opportunity for co-operative practitioners

plenary sessions, sectoral and thematic

seminars Learn from and discussion experts and panels. network It with is peers

open to co-operators worldwide and also

to other civil society actors, development

agencies, policy makers, institutional

partners, Discounts government available for representatives,

researchers, Co-operatives and UK members all those who are

concerned about development.




18 Oct: Community Energy Awards 2019

Community Energy England & Community

Energy Wales have teamed up to deliver

the 2019 Community Energy Awards.

Organisers say it will be a relaxed event

where we champion the individuals

(many of whom are volunteers) making

a diff erence in their communities, and

the projects and partners who have

helped develop innovative community

energy schemes.

WHERE: City Hall London


7 Nov: Practitioners’ Forum

Professional training event for people

operating in key roles in co-operative

businesses both large and small.

Featuring a series of specialist forums:

communications; finance; governance;

HR; and membership, with delegates

able to mix and match across forums.

WHERE: The Studio, Manchester


26-28 Nov: Co-operative College

100 years: And now the future

Rochdale and its town hall will be the

venue for a highlight of the College’s

centenary year. Speakers include Prof.

Esther N. Gicheru (principal, The

Co-operative University College of

Kenya), Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater

Manchester) and Angela Rayner (Labour

MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden

and Failsworth). The conference will

include a Gala Dinner in the Grand Hall.

WHERE: Rochdale Town Hall



28 Feb – 1 Mar 2020 : Co-operative Retail

Conference (Cheshire)

10-20 June - Co-op Congress (Rochdale)

50 | SEPTEMBER 2019


FORUM 2019


7 November 2019



A series of specialist forums: communications

finance governance HR and membership

Mix and match across forums to create

a bespoke programme of learning

A fantastic professional development

opportunity for co-operative practitioners

Learn from experts and network with peers

Discounts available for

Co-operatives UK members

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