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  An enterprise formed by an association of members with the aim of promoting their common economic interests. Cooperatives are particularly significant in the farming sector because it is characterized by independent, family producers whose market influence is fragmented in terms of purchasing technological inputs and selling farm produce. Farmers\' market vulnerability is exacerbated by the increasingly corporate structure of the agro-technology and food processing sectors with whom they deal (see also agricultural geography). By organizing themselves into cooperatives, farmers aim to improve their negotiating position vis-à-vis these corporate players in the agro-food complex whilst securing their operational independence (Moran et al., 1996). It should be noted that this strategy is by no means restricted to small-scale producers and can be adopted by large-scale producers as, for example, in California.

Purchasing cooperatives enable farmers to reduce the cost of technological inputs by bulk purchasing and sharing major capital items, such as farm machinery. Processing cooperatives undertake some or all of produce processing, such as tomato pulping, to increase and retain more of its market value. Marketing cooperatives, such as those for milk, enable farmers to negotiate better product prices by bulk trading. In many cases, farmers\' cooperatives cover several of these different functions (Cobia, 1989). Cooperatives have become a staple institutional feature of the agricultural policy process in some countries, for example in Norway and Italy. In other cases their relationship with the state has been much more precarious, buffeted by ideological shifts in the political landscape as, for example, in Peru or Portugal (Cleary, 1989).

In recent years producer cooperatives have become a staple feature of \'Fair trade\' initiatives sponsored by western development agencies as a means of improving the working conditions and incomes of peasant producers of commodities like coffee and tea (Barrett-Brown, 1993). (SW)

References Barrett-Brown, M. 1993: Fair trade. London: Zed Books. Cleary, M. 1989: Peasants, politicians and producers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cobia, D., ed., 1989: Cooperatives in agriculture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Moran, W., Blunden, G. and Bradly, A. 1996: Empowering family farms through cooperatives and producer marketing boards. Economic Geography 72 (2): 161-77.



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