Farmer Cooperatives as Intermediaries for Agricultural and Rural Development in China

The farmer cooperative sector in China has experienced rapid development in the past two decades, in particular after the implementation of the Farmer Cooperative Law in 2007. Farmer cooperatives (FCs) are considered important to mediate between farmers and other actors in the wider social, economic and political environment. FCs also can provide relevant services to improve production and marketing and enhance agricultural and rural development.
This project, based on in-depth empirical research, investigates how Chinese farmer cooperatives coordinate production and marketing activities of farmers and act as intermediaries in relation to external actors. Central to the research are both the processes and outcomes of intermediation.


  • FCs serve diverse functions. Some of these functions are not paid attention to by existing policies, but do have potential to promote sustainable agricultural and rural devel-opment. Examples of these neglected functions relate to resource management and quality coordination. The project shows that community-based FCs have the ad-vantage to provide services that are territory-based.
  • New functions such as the development of contextual knowledge and public service provision of FCs emerge from the need of agricultural and rural development at the local level. In practice, it appears that most functions are supported by actors other than the gov-ernment, including NGOs, international organizations and research institutes.
  • The functioning of a FC is a dynamic organizing process shaped and re-shaped constantly by different actors and oscillating between market and hierar-chical forms.
  • FCs in China emerge and develop in a context of radical economic, technical and political changes giving rise to major challenges.
  • The diverse functions and their significance are not well recognized by the government and other actors. Hence, FCs do not have adequate clout in the interacions with these actors.
  • This study contributes to theories related to the functioning of FCs as well as the functioning of innovation intermediaries through the use of an actor-oriented perspective and by paying attention to the daily operations of the FCs. 

Policy recommendations

  • It is useful to recognize FCs’ multi-functionality in agricultural and rural development and open up room for community-based FCs in policy support. 
  • Paying attention to capacity building can help FCs to meet the challenges posed by the changing environment.
  • The government can develop partnerships with actors from private and civil sectors to support FCs’ diverse functions and capacity building.
  • Establishing federation systems could help to strengthen FCs at local level and build more sustainable relations with stronger players.