Ariel Guarco, president of ICA,  came to Turkey last month  to join the “Twosday Event” which was held to promote ICA and FAO’s ongoing work and to draw attention to the importance of the cooperative system and gave a speech. On this occasion, we asked him a few questions in order to take Guarco’s own assessments on cooperatives particularly, their role in the food systems. Our sincere thanks to Ünal Örnek, who forwarded our questions and made this interview possible.

“I fırmly belıeve that we as humanıty, and our planet Earth as the Common Home where we all lıve, do not have a promısıng future ıf we do not adopt a cooperatıve paradıgm on a global scale”
FAO Turkey Representative Viorel Gutu and ICA President Ariel Guarco

Four years ago, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FAO

What is the aim and scope of ICA and FAO collaboration in general?

Four years ago, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FAO to support, improve and promote the contributions of cooperatives in the eradication of food insecurity, the reduction of rural poverty and the sustainable management of natural resources.

In this way, we deepened a bond of mutual collaboration that both organizations had initiated in 2013, and advanced in the understanding that cooperation on a global scale allows finding solutions at the local level, supported by work such as that carried out by the FAO itself together with cooperative organizations in Turkey, for example.

Our enterprisies have a long history in the organization of production and consumption to serve communities, thus being a key tool for several of the Sustainable Development Goals, such as Zero Hunger, Care for Ecosystems and Responsible Production and Consumption.

In addition to having major developments, with agricultural production or consumer cooperatives that lead national markets and have a powerful insertion at the international level, cooperativism is a key player for organization on much smaller scales, as FAO also understood when it called on them to work together during the Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028).

Cooperatives play a leading role in the functioning of agrifood systems

What do you think about the current situation of food systems at the global level and the role of cooperatives in it?

Undoubtedly, today we as humanity have the capacity to produce the food necessary for a safe diet for all the people living on the planet. But, at the same time, there are more than 800 million undernourished people, a number that grew with the pandemic and may continue to grow as a result of armed conflicts, environmental disasters and, above all, the mismatch that exists between production and consumption models governed by the accumulation of concentrated economic actors and the real satisfaction of people’s basic needs. This mismatch can be observed in different areas, but it becomes blatant in the case of food, something so basic for all of us to be able to lead a dignified life.

Cooperatives can contribute a lot of experience since, as I said before, there are development models in different parts of the world where producers and consumers themselves are associated and play a leading role in the functioning of agrifood systems. In this way, they can guide them towards the food security and sovereignty of each community.

Cooperatives provide scale to small and marginalized groups

At the last Food Systems Summit convened by the United Nations, from the ICA we made it clear that cooperatives are part of all stages of the chain and that, among other actions, they provide scale to small and marginalized groups, such as small farmers, helping them to access markets, information, technology and financing that otherwise they would not have been able to enjoy; they market safe and nutritious food at affordable prices promoting sustainable and ethical food consumption; participate in food waste management, environmental preservation and water protection; provide a governance model that allows for the participation and inclusion of all stakeholders; and redistribute surpluses in purchase prices, sales and remuneration to them, and this also applies to cooperative members who participate as producers, users or workers in food systems.

What do you think are the common features the Turkish cooperative movement shares with cooperatives which you have visited in other regions?

Ariel GuarcoTurkish cooperativism has very much impregnated in each of its organizations the values and principles that unite our movement on a global scale. As a result, there are very solid cooperatives, especially in the field of production, and they have found mechanisms for participation, financing and advocacy at the national and regional levels that allow them to continue growing and serving each of their members.

I always find that cooperatives speak a common language

Today we have enormous challenges in the world, which we have to face from our Common House, the International Cooperative Alliance, which contains more than 300 organizations from 110 countries. I have been able to visit more than half of them and, as it happened to me in my recent stay in your country, I always find that cooperatives speak a common language and we are very clear about how to act in our territories to improve people’s quality of life, in all the areas where we work. I believe this happens precisely because we have a common Identity, a rich history of almost two centuries behind us, and a unique global voice that positions us as the largest global network of enterprises rooted in every continent, with values and principles that guide us in every place and on a global scale.

Two years ago, on the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, you delivered a message titled Towards a common destiny with cooperative values and principles. In this message you offered an alternative paradigm to organise our economies and societies. Given the worldwide experiences we’ve gone through since then, is that message still valid?

I firmly believe that we as humanity, and our planet Earth as the Common Home where we all live, do not have a promising future if we do not adopt a cooperative paradigm on a global scale that allows us to overcome the crises we are facing in economic, social and environmental terms. Unfortunately, the pandemic and the geopolitical tensions that have been shaking us in recent years have aggravated the situation.

Cooperation is not only the way out of critical situations

However, we say that cooperation is not only the way out of critical situations. For us, it is a doctrine with a proven track record at the local, national, regional and global level, which demonstrates how economic and social relations can be pursued among diverse individuals, groups and nations that enable us to meet the needs and aspirations of all, leaving no one behind and without the satisfaction of some being at the expense of the suffering of others. Only in this way can we build a peaceful, just, balanced and more sustainable world in every sense.

Ariel Guarco

I was received with great warmth and hospitality and I had the pleasure of talking face to face with my Turkish colleagues

Would you like to share some memorable anecdotes from your visit with our readers?

This is not the first time I have visited your country; I have been in Turkey on other occasions and I have always felt very comfortable. On this occasion, in addition to attending a conference together with FAO, I was received with great warmth and hospitality and I had the pleasure of talking face to face with my Turkish colleagues, after so many months of isolation and meetings through the screens. In addition to having very fruitful dialogues with ICA members in Turkey, I visited some production and consumer cooperatives where I was able to see, first hand, the great development of the Turkish cooperative movement, the quality of the products offered and the excellent attention received by those who decide to become involved in the cooperative system in this country. I also met the savings and credit cooperatives, which play a fundamental role for the cooperative system itself and for the Turkish economy in general.

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Interview with ICA President Ariel Guarco

  1. Mr. Guarco has pointed out that the Turkish cooperatives had achieved great development in recent years.  It is very kind of you Mr. Guarco. However, it is very sad to point out that the number of ICA membership in Turkey has dropped from five to two in recent years. I mean only two cooperative organisations remained as members of the ICA; Agricultural Credit Cooperatives and Forestry Cooperatives. Even the National Cooperative Union of Turkey is no longer a member of the ICA. The Sugarbeet Producers’ Cooperative Union PANKOBİRLİK left the ICA a few years ago. The oldest ICA member organization, the Turkish Cooperative Association (since 1950s) has also left the ICA. You can not see any news coverage about the visit of Mr. Guarco on either TURKEY COOP or ORKOOP websites. This demonstrates the lack of clear understanding about the importance of the ICA membership. It is very pity indeed.

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