Cooperatives at a crossroads : trajectories of agricultural cooperatives in Ukraine
Abstract: This exploratory comparative case study seeks to understand challenges and strategies for farmer collective action in post-Soviet settings. It does so by examining member relations, trust and commitment in two successful dairy cooperatives in western Ukraine: one NGOinitiated cooperative with a bottom-up organization, and one cooperative developed in liaison with a local large-scale agricultural enterprise (LSE). Through qualitative field study data from 28 interviews, the study shows how the rural institutional context affects cooperative initiatives. The results indicate that initial and to some extent lingering issues of trust among villagers seemingly linked to failed or fraudulent projects and investments of the transition period can be an obstacle for cooperatives linked to NGOs. Meanwhile, such trust issues could easily be circumvented by the second cooperative through its strong links to the local LSE, which could bestow the cooperative with trustworthiness. The study also shows how the two cases, due to their origins and support, differ a lot in their member relations, including how they handle collective action problems and how members identify within the cooperatives. While the NGO-backed cooperative opts for a strategy that advocates equity, participation and a strong care for community, the LSE cooperative opts for a more vertical, business-like organization, at the expense of some of the cooperative principles. Pointing to the institutional factors which enable LSE cooperatives, a continued development of LSE cooperatives is expected and discussed. Lawmakers may need to distinguish between traditional cooperatives and LSE cooperatives in order to secure the needs of both types of arrangements.
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