Rio+20 Business Focus: Unleashing the power of farmers’ co-ops in China (June 6)

Politicians make the policy. But it’s often left to business to implement it. For this reason RioPlus Business is featuring submissions from business across the globe in the lead up to Rio+20.

The aim is to demonstrate how Sustainable Development is becoming a reality on every continent, country and city.

Today, Lap Ll from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) China explains how the group have been working with phone company Nokia to help support farmer’ cooperatives and connect remote farmers to agricultural markets.

In Huayuan, a village 150 km northeast of Beijing with less than 700 residents, villagers are pooling their resources together to establish farmers’ cooperatives.

They have created a small miracle that not only doubles their income, but also brings the community closer together.

This is the result of a Nokia and IUCN China partnership to help improve farmers’ livelihoods options and strengthen local capacity for grassroot-level self-governance.

Farmers’ cooperatives enable farmers to pool their resources together for buying and selling agricultural products with greater bargaining power.

Corn is one of the most common crop in Miyun watershed. IUCN and Nokia are helping communities to find sustainable alternative livelihoods (© IUCN China)

It also gives them better access to bank loans, and rights for striking business contracts. It places them on a more leveled playing field with business companies.

Yet perhaps more importantly, it enables communities to improve their livelihoods collectively, and helps build stronger capacity of self governance.

In 2010, Mrs. Yu Guifen and 17 other households formed an aquaculture co-op in Huayuan Village.

Mobilizing local resources and innovation, they initiated the use of running stream water and salt for disinfection (rather than antibiotics), and built green-house shelters to keep the fish warm in harsh Northern China winters.

The “Guifen Aquaculture Co-op” is widely supported by the community as most people involved hold a share in the business.

Poorer households could join the cooperative by granting the Co-op exclusive rights to use their land as a substitute of cash payment.

The Co-op dividend in 2009 was as high as 8,000 RMB (1,100 USD). For many Co-op members, this business doubles their annual income.

Communications expertise

IUCN and Nokia organized Agro-forestry farmers’ cooperative training in Miyun watershed (© IUCN China)

Nokia, a market leader in mobile devices aims also to be a leading company in environmental performance.

With a user base of more than one billion people, Nokia has a unique opportunity to make an impact that goes beyond its own activities.

The company, with a significant workforce based in the Beijing area, is putting water and watershed conservation as a priority conservation target.

Using its expertise in communications, Nokia is assisting in the integration of a range of knowledge generation, capacity building, planning and communication actions for local people in the Miyun watershed.

It supports local news and information collection to help increase community awareness of watershed management. Such advocacy is essential but missing in one of China’s most critical watersheds, and is also relevant to another 5,000 similar watersheds in China.

“Through this collaboration we want to support sustainable water management in the area and also help generate opportunities and possibilities to the rural population for better and more sustainable livelihoods,” says Outi Mikkonen from Sustainability Operations team at Nokia.

The company has a substantial workforce based in the Beijing area and it has joined in local efforts that benefit both biodiversity and people.

Lap Ll is Communications and Consituency Officer at IUCN China.

This article is part of a series commissioned by the Rio Conventions for their RioPlus Business project.


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