This dissertation explores the building and utilization of social capital within agricultural cooperatives in rural Nepal, where livelihoods are under pressure amid challenges posed by rapidly changing socio-economic and environmental conditions. It seeks to answer the following research questions:
RQ 1: What are the triggers and drivers of social capital building and how they are manifested within the framework of development of rural agricultural cooperatives?
RQ 2: What are the various mechanisms of social capital building within the structure and function of cooperatives and what are the key enabling factors of the building of social capital?
RQ 3: What are the major manifestations of change in social capital built with the development of agricultural cooperatives?
RQ 4: What are the major utilizations and impacts on rural livelihoods of social capital built through the development of agricultural cooperatives?
Using a case study methodology, four agricultural cooperatives in the Western hills of Nepal were purposively selected according to criteria of size, scale and accessibility. Data collected from semi-structured interviews were triangulated with those from focus group discussions and non-participant observation. Data were coded and organized against the research questions, using Nvivo 10 software. Within-case analysis was carried out for the emerging themes and patterns based on the conceptual framework whose major elements include triggers, drivers, mechanisms, enabling factors, manifestations of change, utilization and impacts of social capital building. Within-case data were analysed for pertinent themes, and cross-case patterns were developed through comparing and contrasting within-case themes.
Major triggers of social capital building are development intervention support from external agencies, or local stimuli generated by a critical natural incident or local farmer leadership initiative, which stimulate concerted action for collective benefit which may lead to formation of an agricultural cooperative. Policy is the overriding driver of social capital building, with other drivers including poverty and livelihood needs, economic opportunity, collective bargaining and socio-cultural factors.
The main mechanism of social capital building in small agricultural cooperatives is the monthly meeting while in large cooperatives with suitable facilities it is the selling of vegetables through a collection centre. Local farmers’ leadership and DADO, the local extension agency, are two main enabling factors supporting the building process.
Increased unity among members, as the manifestation of the change in group bonding social capital, is the core of the social capital building process although increased trust and mutual cooperation are other observed changes. The norms of reciprocity among members are generally higher in smaller cooperatives. Trust in fellow members and leadership are attributed to transparency in financial matters. Creation of new linkages with service-providing agencies is the main change observed in linking social capital, which is higher for the cooperatives having renowned or well-located production pockets, prior exposure of local farmers to external support agencies, and readily accessible cooperative headquarters. Generally, the growth in bridging social capital is insignificant. Bonding social capital is utilized more than the other two forms, meaning change in bonding social capital is the crux of the social capital building process in the cooperatives investigated. This form of social capital also influences other forms.
Accessing farm technologies and information and credit are two major utilizations of social capital for individual cooperative members. Likewise, better market access is the main benefit for semi-commercial and commercial farmers from bigger cooperatives belonging to well established production pockets. Similarly, exchange of labour is more prevalent among small cooperatives members who live in close proximity. At the collective level, the main utilization of social capital is for collective bargaining for government services and facilities, with limited use for collective bargaining in produce marketing by the members from bigger scale cooperatives.
The major impacts of social capital at member or household level are contribution to increased farm income and increased empowerment. Likewise, expanding and popularizing vegetable farming, and reinforcing of the trend of community participation in local resource management and community cohesiveness and harmony are major impacts at community level. Of the three forms, bonding social capital impacts the functioning and performance of the cooperatives the most by bringing an enhanced commitment of the cooperative leadership and general members towards cooperative affairs. Improved cooperative performance directly and positively influences various livelihood impacts, which reinforce the commitment of members and executives.
Building of social capital in rural farming communities can help improve sustainable rural livelihoods under pressure amid challenges posed by rapidly changing socio-economic and environmental conditions. Relevant extension and cooperative development policies, and implementation of local leadership development programs, are identified as foci for government efforts designed to foster and support social capital building in such communities. This research can contribute to dialogue about the potential role and importance of social capital in Nepalese society, particularly in rural communities. Social capital as a concept has as yet received virtually no recognition in academic or policy spheres of the country. Making its existence and importance explicit will aid development of effective government policies aimed at addressing rural community issues.