Speech by Her Excellency the President of India Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil at the Inauguration of the International Co-operative Conference on the Theme "Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World"

New Delhi : 04.07.2012

speechLadies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to inaugurate the International Cooperative Conference being organized by Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) during the course of the UN International Year of Cooperatives. It provides an opportunity to look at the contribution of co-operatives to socio-economic growth, as well as to identify and address their difficulties and constraints, with a view to strengthening the movement. I welcome all the delegates to this Conference and wish them success in their deliberations.

Building a better world and building "The future we want" as was agreed to, at the recent Rio + 20 Conference, will be possible with the participation of people at all levels, working in a collaboration. Co-operatives in a sense represent this spirit as these are enterprises based on people coming together and working collectively to achieve greater benefit. These are basically peoples' institutions and can draw on the enterprise and the capacity of their members for achieving success. One of the leading saints of our country, Sant Tukaramji said in Marathi -


Which means,

By cooperating with each other we can achieve the right path.

As we celebrate this special year worldwide to promote and create awareness about the role of cooperatives today, over one billion people globally are members of one cooperative or another. In India alone there are over 249 million members of about six lakh co-operative societies in a range of agricultural activities such as credit, fertilizers, production, processing as well as other sectors like housing, dairying and textiles.

A resounding success of co-operatives in India is its White Revolution which made India the world's largest producer of milk and milk products. It started in the 1970s with village milk producers' co-operatives being its bedrock. IFFCO, another co-operative which is the host of the Conference took shape in the year 1967, and has emerged as one of the world's largest fertiliser co-operative and meets almost one-third demand for fertilizers in the country. It played a major role in India achieving self-sufficiency in foodgrains. Infact, it was more than a century ago that the first formal co-operative was set up in 1904 in India for dealing with rural indebtedness. Subsequently, in the post-independence period great reliance was placed on co-operatives as units for propelling economic development and people's welfare. Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru wanted to make the co-operative movement the basic activity of India in every village, as also elsewhere and finally to make the co-operative approach the common thinking of India.

Since then, there have been legislative as well as policy measures to provide encouragement and support for co-operatives to facilitate their function as autonomous, self-reliant and democratically managed institutions, accountable to their members and robust enough to contribute to the national economy. A landmark step in this direction was the recent Amendment to the Constitution, under which the right to form co-operative societies was made a fundamental right; giving support to these societies was included as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy as also provisions were included for ensuring their autonomous, democratic and accountable functioning. Though the functioning of cooperative societies has acquired a place in our Constitution showing India's belief in the capacity of sound units in generating growth and employment, still much remains to be done to rejuvenate and boost the co-operative movement.

The theme of this Conference "Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World" is derived from the philosophy behind cooperative movement under which, in its ideal form, people pool their resources for getting higher returns, and also for common good by reinvesting in their communities. This is because being democratic bodies and given their member driven nature, makes them different from other forms of business, in their ability to balance the pursuit of profit with the needs and interests of members and communities.

Co-operatives, thus, aim at growth with equity. These can be useful institutions for inclusive growth, as they meet the requirements in respect of their core clients - farmers, growers, artisans, handloom weavers, producers and women, who need the support of the co-operative movement. Co-operatives can also be an institutional mechanism for involving millions of our people who fall outside the purview of the formal economy to participate in economic activities.

Co-operatives should seek the participation of women and youth in larger numbers. Empowerment of women through co-operatives has been much talked about but we need to go a long way in making it a reality. In India, Self-Help Groups have been important, but setting women co-operatives will be useful in many ways, since these would be better acquainted with the requirements of women and can become instruments of their economic betterment. Women representatives on the board of co-operatives will now be there as provision for this, as also for weaker section of societies is included in the Constitutional Amendment. Similarly, the idea of co-operatives should be imbibed in the minds of the youth. Educational institutions should hold courses on co-operatives in their campuses, so that youth can develop an understanding and appreciation of the Co-operative movement.

In a fast globalizing world order, the challenge for the co-operatives is to have a strategy to adapt to new requirements. They would need to sharpen their core competencies and increase their effectiveness, improve their competitiveness and work in a professional manner, to face increasing global competition from multi-nationals and bigger corporate businesses. The environment in which co-operatives are required to work has changed, but their relevance and role remains. Some co-operative societies have been instrumental in preserving traditional knowledge, arts and crafts, a function society cannot and must not ignore.

Despite serving the people for decades, co-operatives face number of challenges like lack of human resources development, education and training and inadequate resources for modernization. These require focus and well-thought out responses. The strength of the co-operative movement is in its collectivity. For individual co-operative banks and societies to be competitive, the sector as a whole must be strong and each unit should be backed by collective strength. Co-operatives ought to seriously consider ways of further strengthening networking amongst themselves.

Co-operatives catering to agriculture, play an important role in the rural areas, and should work in a more forceful and pro-active manner in integrating agriculture economy with industry and other sectors. Co-operatives being a body of farmers is in a better position to access knowledge and technologies, market and credit facilities for running their farms in a more productive and sustainable manner. This would be especially useful for bringing economies of scale in the case of small and marginal farmers. It could be better placed to establish backward and forward linkages. Co-operatives like Farmer Producer Organizations - FPOs- bring inputs and outputs aggregation, and create many opportunities for agricultural and post-agricultural arrangements with the industry. FPOs can be the first step towards forging farmer-industry partnerships to create a win-win situation for both. This collective bargaining has an additional advantage. It ensures that the farmer's right over their land - both ownership and possession - will remain intact, given the deep emotional bond of the farmer with land, but yet allow the farmer to be an agri-preneur.

In conclusion, I would like to say that co-operatives have played an important role and must continue to improve their performance to meet the expectations of their stakeholders and their nations. I once again convey my best wishes for the Conference, which I am confident, will make constructive suggestions to help the co-operative movement.

Thank you