Paul Hazen recalls attending a members’ meeting of the local electric distribution co-operative back in the late 1970s.

Up for debate was the shutting down of its nuclear power plant. The floor was divided – and loudly so.

The resolution was voted down and consequently the members moved on to the next agenda item – a new community economic development initiative.

The same people who had one minute been at each other’s throats were suddenly agreeing on the path forward for economic development in their community.

“Why wouldn’’t you want to be a part of this?” Hazen thought at the time.

Now Hazen is very much a part of it, leading the charge on behalf of the co-operative movement in eradicating hunger and extreme poverty from the developing world. As the Executive Director of the US Overseas Co-operative Development Council he has charged himself with ensuring that the co-operative business model is how Africa will rise out of poverty and the world can feed itself by 2050.

“Every expert agrees that we cannot feed nine billion people on this planet unless we produce more food in Africa and that small holder farmers must use collective action in order to achieve size and scale,” says Hazen on the occasion of World Food Day.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has confirmed co-operatives’ importance in its fight against hunger, giving today’’s celebrations the motto, Agricultural Co-operatives: Key to Feeding the World.

“The FAO has documented that experience shows that smallholder farmers and other producers can negotiate better terms in contracts being member of a cooperative,” says Hazen. “Hence, they need to spend less on production inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. Members of cooperatives also have more marketing- and risk reducing opportunities.”

But, a lack of effective implementation strategies and consistent strategies in Africa has seen agriculture – though it accounts for 70 per cent of the continent’s labour force – receive low priority.

“Only when cooperatives are in the mainstream of poverty alleviation strategies can we have a hope of feeding nine billion people in 2050,” says Hazen. He, for one, will be doing everything he can to make it so.