Blog Post

Agricultural Cooperatives Could Hold Key to Increasing Resilience to Shocks

Strong agricultural cooperatives could be a powerful pathway to protect vulnerable populations from food insecurity caused by shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent paper in Agriculture & Food Security.

The study examined household food security status and coping strategies both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic using data from 1,270 members of agricultural cooperatives in Mali, Ghana, Senegal, and Ivory Coast. Based on their ability to support members’ needs and maintain communication with members, as well as member participation and understanding of business management, each cooperative was labeled either “active” or “poorly/not active.”

The study also looked at the length and severity of COVID-19 lockdown measures; household income and livelihood sources; production of food crops vs. cash crops; loss of income during the pandemic; and household demographics such as age, education, and gender.

Studied households experienced varied food insecurity outcomes. However, several key trends did emerge.

While members of both types of cooperative—active and non-active—experienced heightened food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of non-active cooperatives had more difficulty accessing food than their counterparts in active cooperatives in Senegal and particularly Ivory Coast.

The variation in food insecurity between active and non-active cooperatives was not as significant in Ghana. At the same time, households in both active and non-active cooperatives in Mali did not seem to experience increased food insecurity during the pandemic.

The results from these two countries may be driven by differences in lockdown measures: Ghana’s lockdown mandates were particularly stringent, while Mali’s were very light.  

The study also identifies variations in coping mechanisms as potential drivers in different food insecurity levels between and among cooperative types. In Senegal, Ghana, and Ivory Coast, members of non-active cooperatives generally adopted more severe coping strategies than their more active counterparts. These included taking children out of school to reduce spending, cutting down on amount of food shared outside of the household, and sending male children to look for employment. The authors posit that active agricultural cooperatives likely helped their members be more resilient in the face of shocks to food value chains, thus reducing the need to engage in more extreme coping strategies.

Based on these results, policies to promote and strengthen dynamic agricultural cooperatives, particularly for smallholder farmers and other vulnerable populations, could help increase the resilience of households and food systems to shocks like that seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Sara Gustafson is a freelance communications consultant.