Computerizing Agricultural Cooperatives: A Practical Guide

This practical guide begins by highlighting that agricultural cooperatives in developing regions are being hit from all sides. They are receiving far less support from government than they have in the past, and with the liberalisation of agricultural markets, many of them are struggling to survive in an increasingly competitive business environment. The guide argues that these changes tend to favour small, decentralised organisations that are able to respond rapidly to the ever-shifting demands of the market.

The guide also notes that in large measure, this transformation is being enforced by the liberalisation and globalisation of markets and the growing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). It argues that if agricultural cooperatives are to survive, they must learn how to compete and suggests that the immediate advantage of computerisation is the enhanced ability to handle large amounts of information. The introduction of ICTs can facilitate the collection, analysis, storage and reporting of information much faster and more accurately than could be accomplished using manual systems. Furthermore, computerisation can also help cooperative managers streamline operations, cut operating costs, enlarge networks of members and affiliated institutions, increase sales and respond to signals from far away markets.

Yet the guide also points out that the benefits do not come as quickly as might be expected. This is because computerisation also involves changes in work habits and the way people relate to one another; these behavioural and institutional changes cannot easily be predicted or planned for beforehand. The guide argues that they are the result of experimentation and innovation after adoption of the technology, and this can take time.

The purpose of this guide is to assist agricultural cooperatives considering computerisation. It is based upon a review of computerisation experiences in Asia, Africa and South America. The manual is designed for developing country cooperatives that are just starting to consider whether or not or how to computerise – the target audience includes managers, trainers and policy makers with little experience in working with computers.

The guide, which is supplemented with practical examples of how agricultural cooperatives in developing countries tackle computerisation problems, is organised in the following sections:

  • Why should cooperatives computerise? Advantages and risks;
  • The computerisation project: stages of a typical computerisation plan. Things to look for at each stage, advice and suggestions;
  • A case example of a cooperative that designs a computerisation project;
  • Conclusions and recommendations on the application of technologies in cooperatives;
  • Annexes: a glossary, references, a series of checklists, and more details on the case study.

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