On 3 July we celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives. An eventful 2020, marked by a disruption to the European single market caused by Brexit and the global uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and general lockdowns, demonstrated once again that we are stronger together than alone. Therefore, the theme for 2021 is ‘Rebuild better together’.

With the various fruit and vegetable auctions, the fruit and vegetable sector in Belgium is very efficiently organised, building on a long tradition of organised purchasing. At the end of the 19th century, small producers, until then at the mercy of the buyers, started to organise themselves to resist the lack of transparency and the stronger position of the buyers. These organised sales systems were the forerunners of today’s auctions. These local auctions grew and merged into larger entities in the second half of the 20th century. Today, Belgium is characterised by large and efficient cooperative sales structures for fruit and vegetables: Belgische Fruit Veiling, BelOrta, Coöperatie Hoogstraten, Limburgse Tuinbouwveiling and REO Veiling. The growers are the owners of the auctions; As a consequence, this involvement leads to collective, democratic and sustainable decision-making.

But a cooperative is more – much more – than just a buyer-supplier of fruit and vegetables. Cooperatives provide their members with a total package of services in which the long-term well-being of the grower and their company is taking centre stage. Cooperatives are the ultimate protection for growers against the challenges in the sector. 2020 demonstrated that producer organisations are adding value to the sector even in the most exceptional circumstances.

By stimulating innovation and research, the cooperatives focus, among other things, on better logistics, more sustainable packaging and cooperation in areas such as IT. For example, the Care4Growing project was launched in 2020, a cooperative project on data collection and digitization in the agricultural and horticultural sector. With this multifunctional platform, Care4Growing ensures that every grower has a mobile tool that supports him in his daily tasks and makes the work more efficient.

In other words, in times of global uncertainty, the auctions have proven that the strength and resilience of the sector lies in cooperation.