Researchers at the Sustainable Places Research Institute Dr.Poppy Nicol and Alice Taherzadeh were commissioned by the Wales Co-operative Party and members of the Co-operative Group in the National Assembly for Wales to investigate how co-operative ways of working have the potential to support sustainable and just food systems within Wales. Their findings of this work are presented in a report published today Working Co-operatively for Sustainable and Just Food Systems’.

Currently, co-operatives and co-operative ways of working play a fledgling role in the Welsh food economy. The report suggests co-operative ways of working could and should play an important role in fostering sustainable and just food systems in Wales in the future. This requires political and legislative support from the Welsh Government.

Poppy and Alice interviewed a number of stakeholders involved in Welsh food systems varying in function, scale and sector along with a number of key supporting organisations.

Challenges facing co-operative ways of working within Wales

A number of challenges were found to be hindering the scaling-out of co-operative economies and the flourishing of sustainable and just food systems within Wales.

  • Disparate and sparse training opportunities for sustainable agriculture coupled with a lack of appropriate advice and support for co-operative legal structure for co-operatives in the food system;
  • Limited co-operative opportunities for processing and distribution – particularly for plant-based products;
  • Structural difficulties of competing with a dominant food system that is based upon industrial production of cheap food.

Overall, stakeholders – particularly those already working within sustainable food production, processing and distribution – felt there is a role for co-operative ways of working and co-operative economies to support sustainable and just food futures in Wales. When embedded within local communities and guided by co-operative values, co-operative ways of working demonstrate potential for supporting a values-based food systems based upon democracy, solidarity, equality and equity. 

Cultivating sustainable and just food futures: International and local inspiration

Within the report, four case studies offer insight into the current and potential role of co-operative ways of working in supporting sustainable and just food systems.

 The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, which demonstrates how learning can be a vehicle for bringing different actors together to build sustainable and just food systems.

The Stop Community Food Centre, Canada presents an innovative example of a community-based hub addressing food justice through cultivating local food economies.

The Open Food Network is identified as an innovative case of a co-operative using technology to support local food economies.

Cae Tan

As a Welsh case study, Cae Tan offers insight into how community supported agriculture (CSA) can help create thriving local economies, cultivate healthy produce and support local ecology.

Work-based apprenticeships and traineeships, formal training programmes, qualifications for trainers and training centres to support new entrants were identified as initiatives that could support the scaling-out of sustainable food futures in Wales. Small-scale organisations, such as Cae Tan, Banc Organics and Coed Organics, saw themselves as key actors in expanding training opportunities through mentoring and apprenticeships.

The role of policy and legislation for sustainable and just food systems

Governments can play a key role in fostering co-operative values through implementing policies and legislation that promote and encourage co-operative ways of working at regional, city and national scales.

In New York City, the city government is adopting regulations to assist co-operatives. Governmental bodies have the potential to support co-operatives through prioritising co-operatives when they enter a contract for goods or services.

In Emilia-Romagna, Italy, co-operatives produce around 30 percent of the region’s GDP and two out of every three inhabitants are members of a co-operative. A number of legislative frameworks support co-operatives and co-operative ways of working. One law exempts co-operative profits saved as reserves from corporate taxation (these profits are indivisible to members). Another law also requires 3% of profits to be sent to co-operative development funds and federations, strengthening the co-operative movement through creating new co-ops and supporting existing ones.

Through legislating for co-operation, Wales could become a pioneering nation for sustainability and justice.

Policy recommendations

The report presents three key policy recommendations.

1. Scaling-out sustainable and just food production in Wales

A Welsh agricultural policy that works to support sustainable and just food production in Wales needs to address the current gap in horticultural and arable production in order to provide for a healthy, sustainable and just diet. It recognises the potential role of co- operative ways of working and values in achieving this. There is a need for:

a. Support with the scaling-out of horticultural and arable production, for example via apprenticeships, training and mentoring, and provides optional support for existing meat and dairy farmers interested in diversification to horticultural production.

b. Support with access to land for new-entrants seeking to work on the land co- operatively and sustainably and further addressing current limitations of the planning process – for example planning permission for co-operative distribution centres, food hubs and dwellings.

2. Co-producing Local Food Economies and Cultures through Food Hubs

An integrated policy environment within Wales needs to recognise the vital link between sustainable and just food, vibrant culture, and the health and well-being of future generations. This requires a Wales-wide action plan that catalyses local food economies through development of co-operative food hubs and community food centres.

Co-operative food hubs can support producers through co-operative processing and distribution enabling resources and access to local markets. Community food centres can further be spaces for diverse communities in Wales to come together to access healthy, local and affordable fresh produce, foster vibrant food cultures, educate about co-operative values and principles and catalyse local food innovation and enterprises.

Together co-operative food hubs and community food centres can cultivate co-operative Welsh food economies and empower communities to achieve sustainable and just food futures.

a. Set-up support (including funding and subsidised rates) for co-operative processing (particularly in meat, dairy, cereals and plant-based products).

b. Infrastructural and set-up support for diverse communities within Wales to come together to create co-operative food hubs and community food centres.

3. Supporting Co-operative Welsh Economies: Information, Training and Advice

A sustainable and just food system is aligned with co-operative values and principles. In order for the two to support one another, there needs to be education both around co- operative principles and values and sustainable and just food systems. Embedding education around co-operative values and principles within Welsh policy will support and enable communities to play an active role in creating sustainable and just food futures.

This will enable the scaling-out of co-operative ways of working within Wales and ensure consistency and quality of provision.

a. Support for setting up regional training centres for sustainable food production that draw upon and bring together the wealth of knowledge of farmers and business owners through collaboration. These centres could support new co-operatives and co-operative ways of working as well as enabling accreditation and/or financial support for farmers wanting to deliver traineeships and training programmes.

b. Long-term core funding from government for training and support for new and existing sustainable food co-operatives, community food hubs and community food centres. Advice and further education on both co-operative ways of working and co- operative legal structure tailored to the food sector available to businesses regardless of size or turnover.

c. Embedding co-operative education within Welsh educational policy and business provision services.

Now is time for different branches of government and different political parties to work co-operatively to create a coherent, cross-sectoral Welsh Food Policy which will ensure a sustainable and just food future in Wales.