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OCDC panel CUs can link agriculture finance
WASHINGTON (5/28/10)--Credit unions’ cooperative structure provides them with opportunities to connect agricultural processes with economic growth, addressing key issues in global development. Greater efforts should be made to foster credit union growth to better address this need, said panelists at the Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) conference in Washington, D.C., last week.
Click to view larger image Staff members look out of the window of a Women’s Co-op branch in Sri Lanka. The credit union participates in the World Council of Credit Unions’ development program in the Asian country. (Photo provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
The one-day event, “Cooperatives: Meeting Development Challenges of the 21st Century,” attracted attendees from Bosnia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and the U.S. World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) representative Suresh Wijesinghe, deputy director of WOCCU’s program in Sri Lanka, stressed the value and positive economic impact of the agricultural lending program for members of Sri Lanka’s Women’s Development Services Cooperative Society, known as Women’s Co-op. “Women's Co-op members are improving their lives through the credit union’s services, from group lending to insurance to health and education services,” Wijesinghe said. The agricultural lending program is being rolled as a pilot in four branches, with plans to expand to all 121 branches, said Wijesinghe. Women’s Co-op members have improved agricultural production technology and found new market links through value chains, a process that provides funding through credit union-based loans to participants taking crops from field to market, Wijesinghe said. Results of the Sri Lanka program show an average 23% increase in return, 14% reduction in production costs and 17% increase in yield. With 30% of the world served by credit unions, there is growing recognition that credit unions can assist individuals in the agricultural sector in working their way out of poverty, according to Dame Pauline Green, president of the International Cooperative Alliance, at the event. “Credit unions aid the process by providing market access [for women] to sell their goods, helping them collectively negotiate better terms, keeping ownership local and meeting members’ needs,” Green said. “These are all traditional values of the cooperative model.” Dr. John Mellor, former director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute and chief economist at the U.S. Agency of International Development, noted the essential role cooperatives play in the new global and foreign aid context. There’s a critical need for apex bodies in the credit union and cooperative movements “to organize people to raise members’ income,” Mellor said. Tim Rieser, foreign policy expert for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), described how U.S. government-funded programs can improve the lives of people in developing countries. Cooperatives are an important mechanism for achieving this goal, he explained. “[Cooperatives] know what they need to do and it's our job to help them,” Rieser told participants. “Cooperatives not only promote economic development on a small scale, but also enhance democratic development because they involve making joint decisions. These programs achieve results at the community level.” OCDC brings together organizations that promote, assist and support establishing member-owned cooperatives worldwide. OCDC member organizations work on promotional efforts and engage in collaborative research to improve cooperative development practices. WOCCU, a member of OCDC, helped coordinate the May 20 conference. For more information, use the link.
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