The functions of farmers’ organisations
There is a huge diversity of farmers’ organisations. Some agri-agencies focus on specific types of organisations, others support a broader range of organisations, or organisations with a broader scope. To deal with this diversity, and since the General Assembly of AgriCord in 2014, The Hague, considers that a farmers’ organisation can have four different types of activities or functions, and most often combines several of these functions.
The farmers’ organisations’ activities can be categorised in the following four main areas:
Representation of members' interests. These activities aim at making members’ concerns to be heard by decision makers (public and private) in order to guide/influence the decisions. This representation can be general, as in the case of many agricultural unions, or more targeted for some more specialized organisations (commodity, type of agriculture – for example organic). Interest representation can be carried out at local level, but more often it involves national, regional or even larger scale structures.
Economic activities. The economic function is often implemented in a cooperative setting, or by a private branch under the control of a farmers’ organisation. Cooperatives typically operate off-farm: upstream (purchase inputs) and downstream (marketing, processing) of the production. They have a rather direct impact on farmers’ income, but they also have the potential to generate benefits for the organisation.
Technical activities. These are mainly activities such as agricultural advice and training for farmers, and often linked to economic activities. The characteristic of these activities is that, as such, they do not generate immediate benefits for the farmer but allow for changes which bear fruit after some years. Therefore, this type of services is sometimes subsidized.
- Delivery of public goods. These include natural resources management, environmental protection, basic capacity building (literacy); services, which directly or indirectly benefit the entire community. Farmers’ organisations can respond to external sollicitations for delivery of public goods, for example (literacy, environment ...). This places the farmers’ organisations in a subcontracting relationship (of a project, of a private actor).
Financing and autonomy of farmers’ organisations – the wrong question?”, Meeting document, AgriCord General Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands/DGIS, 5 and 6 June 2014.