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Cooperatives, COVID-19, Climate Action

Balasubramanian Iyer, Regional Director, ICA-AP



The coronavirus pandemic which started as a health crisis, quickly transformed into an economic and social crisis and in a short span has upended lives and changed the way in which we interact in our daily lives.  Human behaviour is increasingly influencing the climate, changing the way in which we relate to other species, increasing the risk of infections, and paving way for future pandemics. The 2020 International Day of Cooperatives with its focus on SDG13: Climate Action is an opportunity for cooperatives to reinforce the 7th Cooperative Principle (concern for the community), mobilise members to commit to climate actions and achieve a fair, green and just transition for all communities; and ensure we leave no one behind. 



The coronavirus which causes COVID-19 has spread to nearly every country, killed more than 520,000 people and infected over 10 million (data compiled by Johns Hopkins University). While the coronavirus still remains a public health threat, it is also increasingly an economic threat. Studies by the World Bank forecast contraction in economies, prolonged recession, reduction in income, and extended period of uncertainty. The ILO projects that some 1.6 billion people employed in the informal economy – or nearly half the global workforce - could see their livelihoods destroyed due to the continued decline in working hours brought on by lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19.  


The coronavirus has exposed the fragility of health, social, and political systems. This is seen in the tens of millions of migrant workers streaming out of cities in India, six million claiming unemployment in a week in the United States and one million garment workers in Bangladesh out of jobs. The needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are largely ignored and confinement measures having a devastating effect on their ability to make a living. Gig workers, independent contractors, and freelancers who experienced income losses and were without support of severance or benefits also found that they didn’t qualify for benefits under stimulus packages announced by governments.  The impact of the pandemic is likely to hit women more than men as they have to deal with more work while stay at home measures are in place. What the pandemic has shown is that, fragility is not a result of the pandemic, but rather measures built into the system which for the most part ignores ‘informal,’ ‘low skilled’ and ‘vulnerable.’ There is realization that issues of poverty and inequality need to be directly addressed and the need is for alternatives to the market driven, consumption led, inequality widening, and environmentally depleting models. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ “Solidarity is also needed for building back better.  Returning to the systems that created the fragility of our current world is out of the question. I have been arguing strongly that all our efforts must go towards building more equal, inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies and societies.” This is at the essence of what cooperatives are.


Climate Change

The coronavirus induced lockdown has come with environmental gains. While humans are locked inside their homes, nature is thriving and we are rediscovering what we had lost - cleaner air and rivers, less noise and drop in pollution. Sooner or later the lockdown will be relaxed and the question is how to keep the environmental gains from slipping away.


The global impact of COVID-19 has enhanced the importance of climate action. According to the WHO, “changes in infectious disease transmission patterns are a likely major consequence of climate change. Rising temperatures can create favourable conditions for the spread of certain infections, while disappearing habitats may force various animal species to migrate, increasing the chances of spill over pathogens between them.”  Climate change severely impacts people’s lives and livelihoods around the world. Its impacts will be profound for small businesses and agricultural communities, with the brunt borne by the vulnerable, economically disadvantaged, minorities, and women. The Asia-Pacific has the largest number of vulnerable population and the most disaster-prone region in the world. Cooperatives in agriculture, fisheries, forestry have a large membership base in the region and the effects of climate change are felt directly in the form of crop loss, lower productivity, soil erosion, depletion of forest cover, and loss of cattle; resulting in increasing poverty and food insecurity. 


Cooperative response to COVID-19

Cooperatives have stepped up to support their members and communities. In Australia, the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals, the apex body, is providing information to its members on government assistance for coronavirus impacted businesses and what it means. In India, the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Limited is leading efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 by organizing social awareness campaigns to highlight the preventive and precautionary measures like social distancing, sanitization, healthy diet and prevention through face masks. In Iran, the Tehran Handicraft Cooperative Union, Iran Chamber of Cooperatives, and Rah-e-Roshd Cooperative School has been running projects in different provinces to produce masks and isolation gowns. In Korea, more that 25 members coops from iCOOP donated goods to health centers, hospitals, and low-income groups.  The Palestine Agriculture Cooperative Union is supporting the community by collecting fresh vegetables from members as grants and distributing them to the closed governorates affected by the virus. In the Philippines, cooperatives have launched a nationwide campaign of donations to combat the virus and help the elderly, who are the most vulnerable. 


Cooperatives in Nepal have also done their part in responding to the crisis. To mark the 63rd National Cooperative Day, the Nepal Cooperative Federation with the Manmohan Memorial Hospital set up the Cooperatives’ Coronavirus Control Center, and with its members made significant financial contribution to the Coronavirus Infection, Prevention, Control and Treatment Fund established by the National Government. The Nepal Agricultural Central Cooperative Federation managed to collect and sell members' fresh vegetables in Kathmandu during lockdown period, selling products at as low cost as possible. Apart from this, consumer, financial and producer cooperatives are continuing services to their members and facilitating the movement of produce and business operations.


More information about responses from cooperatives in Asia-Pacific can be found at:


Cooperatives for Climate Action

The Sustainable Development Goals provides a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Within this SDG 13 Climate Action calls for not only support to vulnerable regions but also develop national strategies to integrate disaster risk measures, sustainable natural resource management, and human security.  


The 2020 edition will be the 26th United Nations International Day of Cooperatives and the 98th International Cooperative day and the theme is Cooperatives for Climate Action. The International Cooperative Alliance Asia-Pacific (ICA-AP), representing 107 members from 32 countries would like to use the ICD to reinforce the 7th Cooperative Principle (concern for the community), mobilise members to commit climate actions and achieve a fair, green and just transition for all communities, leaving no one behind. ICA members in Asia-Pacific can facilitate climate action in multiple ways:


Promote the cooperative identity: The real economy of farmers and workers were essential to economies during the pandemic crisis. ICD is an ideal time to engage the public about the cooperative model and spread awareness about its principles and values. JA-Zenchu in Japan and National Agriculture Cooperative Federation in Korea organise tours for the public to agriculture cooperatives to learn more about the lives of farmers, role of cooperatives, their contributions to sustainable development and give young people hands-on-experience in growing vegetables and urban gardening.


Reduce carbon footprint: The restrictions on movement due to COVID19 has had a positive impact on our natural environment, with clear evidence of less noise, clean air and rivers, and drop in pollution. The ‘new normal’ post-COVID19 will see a continuation of some of the measures in place – physical distance, reduction in travel, work from home. Many members have started taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint. For instance, the Japanese Consumers’ Coop Union has pledged to reduce total CO2 emissions by 40% through energy conservation and development of renewable energy; LAMAC Multipurpose Cooperative in the Philippines is recognised as a model for sustainable development by the Cooperative Development Authority and Climate Change Commission for their reforestation and recycling work; landowners at the Drawa Block Forest Community Cooperative in Fiji have given up rights to logging timber in exchange for the opportunity to sell rainforest carbon offsets as a way of generating revenue for local economic development.


Greener environment campaign: The ICA-AP Committee on Youth Cooperation will be launching the third edition of Go Green Campaign in July to fit with the theme of ICD. The “World Goes Green with Africa, America and Asia-Pacific,” will link youth and SDGs and create an identity for cooperatives as a sustainable model for environment and society. In India, the Indian Farm and Forestry Development Cooperative is acquiring barren lands and greening them, and several other cooperatives in India are planting thousands of trees in their areas of operations. SANASA Credit Cooperatives in Sri Lanka is promoting Sri Lanka’s NEXT Blue-Green “Lassana Lanka” (Beautiful Sri Lanka) programme for the development of 10,000 sustainable villages. This year, in the spirit of the ICD theme: Climate Action, we urge all ICA members in the region to join the Go Green campaign by adopting tree plantation drives in their communities. 


Implement the R and S’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle, Save and Segregate. These are low-cost and easy changes to implement in offices and homes. ICA-AP invites our members to join us in launching the following actions:


  • Refuse and Reduce single-use plastics: avoid single-use plastics and replace with reusable and recyclable materials
  • Reuse and Repurpose – cutleries, clothes, furniture
  • Recycle – paper, plastics, metal and e-waste
  • Save – electricity and water
  • Segregate waste: separate wet, dry, recyclable and non-recyclable waste



Create a Fund: The Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world. Nearly 45% of the world’s natural disasters occur in the region, and more than 75% of those affected by natural disasters globally live in the region. Cooperatives in the region have shown solidarity during cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons. The iCOOP Stabilisation Fund and the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative’s Kisan Sewa Trust are examples of funds which were used in recent times to respond to member needs. ICA-AP would like to propose a cooperative fund created by members in the region, to enable assistance across sectors and countries in times of need.


Environmental Audit: We urge members to look at the SDG13 targets and indicators, commit to the ones they can implement and report on the results. This will help increase visibility of cooperatives and their contribution in the implementation of SDGs. ICA-AP is compiling best cases and practices by cooperatives in the region and will share with all members and other key stakeholders in the run-up to the ICD.

More information can be found at:



The global impact of COVID-19 has enhanced the importance of climate action as both don’t respect borders, affect everyone, can cause irreparable damage, and threaten existence. In response to the COVID-19, cooperatives have responded admirably in meeting needs of members, contributing to disaster relief funds and taking directing members to take advantage of stimulus packages offered by governments. Similar to the spirit in celebrating IDC in 2012, the International Year of Cooperatives, this year, cooperatives need to spread aloud the message that our methods of production and consumption that are constantly attacking the environment cannot go on.  We need to ensure production does not take a toll on the very soil it depends, reduce the demands we place on nature by optimizing consumption, build direct supply chains between the producer and consumer, substitute animal proteins with plant proteins, and decrease pollution 


Participate: Use the Cooperator’s Communications Guide, which will have the communications tools to promote the event in the weeks leading up to the Day. Post your climate actions on the 2020 Interactive Map: A Journey to Action.


Promote: #CoopsDay and #Coops4ClimateAction widely on all your social media channels.