Be it climate change adaptation or mitigation, cooperatives have set the agenda to collectively provide solutions to the looming impact of rising temperature, loss of jobs, depletion of water resources, degradation of land and forest resources and accumulation of wastes leading to health hazards.

The explicit adoption of eco-social agendas by cooperatives is contributing to co-op viability and vitality, providing a basis for positive differentiation and for stronger ties to important constituencies, stakeholders, and strategic allies.

Dhundi village in Kheda district of Gujarat had formed the world’s first solar irrigation cooperative as Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali (DSUUSM) in 2016. The solar energy provides power to run irrigation pumps, water for farms, cattle, homes, and income by selling the surplus energy to the grids. The members of this cooperative society are solar entrepreneurs who are harvesting solar energy. This has enabled them to reap a better harvest and they are connected to grid for additional income. Cooperatives like DSUUSM in India have meaningful action for attaining SDG 13 on climate change and renewable energy.

Satara water cooperative CORO in Maharashtra is working to bring relief to water-parched village Panvan by rejuvenating wells and improving the water level. Women have taken a leadership role in conserving water, 90 women from 10 talukas have implemented the water school (Panni Shala), which provides training to the community to resolve the water crisis collectively and adopt water conservation.

Indian Farm Forestry Development Co-operative (India), the umbrella co-operative, is turning wasteland back into forest in three north-central States of India, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Swachh is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste collectors and other urban poor in Pune.

It is an autonomous enterprise with a vision to be a society that is socially just, economically equitable, culturally plural, politically democratic, environmentally sustainable, peaceful and humane. The cooperative has been collecting waste, creating awareness, and segregating and composting it. Self Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA’s) interventions in regard to the environment, climate, water, clean energy, and spreading awareness are apt in the current times and support our national goals to be achieved by 2030.

Alternative sources

Cooperatives have provided alternative sources of clean water for metropolitan communities and are helping to accomplish sustainable goals of energy access, energy efficiency, and reduced emissions. In many regions of the world, they are also leading the way in the use of new and renewable energies such as solar and wind power. Cooperatives contribute to the sustainable management of natural resources in a number of ways. These include ensuring that natural resources are not depleted and providing a forum for local people to find information on environmental change by defining their property and user rights, preserving natural resources, and diversifying their economic activities to include green economic ventures.

Apex organisations like AMUL, IFFCO, and NAFED have diversified into organic farming by supporting the cooperatives for production certification, adherence to food safety and linking to the market-driven value chains. The initiatives of this kind have made cooperatives oriented towards natural and organic farming and are all set to cater to the demand for organic produce.

The potential and value of cooperatives’ contribution to the design and realisation of environmental sustainability appear to have been overlooked by policymakers at various levels due to their lack of visibility.

Cooperatives should concentrate their efforts on the goals and objectives to which they are most suited. They should do so by bringing their most significant competitive advantage to the table, namely their dual status as associations and enterprises, as well as the complementarity of their triple roles: economic, social, and societal.

There is a need for enhanced capabilities amongst the cooperative members to understand the pervasive impact of climate change and environmental degradation. Reaching out to cooperatives for raising awareness about environmental problems, training on adaptation and mitigation, forging alliances to work together, investment in cooperative enterprises and innovations are required to have a green agenda for a sustainable future.

The writers are Director and Professor, respectively, VAMNICOM