In terms of Law 160 of 1994, individuals who have acquired land through the granting of areas previously owned by the state can integrate co-operatives. Under Colombian law co-operatives are organisations initially created by Law 454 of 1998, which consist of private law legal persons whose activities are for social interest and are non-profit. Under the 1998 law, a co-operative works as a voluntary association of workers who decide to make a financial contribution to the organisation by performing their respective economic activity, with the purpose of satisfying the common needs and goals of the association. In the case of agricultural co-operatives, the objective is to conclude supply contracts with companies dedicated to the distribution of agricultural products. However, co-operatives contemplated under Law 160 of 1994 must comply with the condition that members of the co-operative own equity in the distribution companies, by allocating at least 10 per cent of their annual income to the subscription of shares. This ensures that small-scale farmers do not exaggerate sale prices, and also decreases the likelihood of the farmers buying products at paltry prices, when they also act as owners of the distribution companies.
The number of co-operatives in Colombia is increasing fast. In fact, according to the Confederation of Co-operatives of Colombia almost 800 agricultural co-operatives are now functioning in the country, with more than 140 000 members1. In addition, approximately 10 000 jobs were created as a result of these co-operatives. However, most seem to be made up of milk and coffee producers (indicating that other products are not as popular) and as a result are concentrated in areas where the production of coffee and milk is prevalent. Most of the co-operatives would be classified as medium or small, with only a few large agricultural co-operatives in the country. But these growing figures indicate that collaborative work among small-scale farmers is gaining acceptance./p>
Small-scale farmers can also organise communitarian companies, in order to divide amongst themselves the gains or losses that result each year, in proportion to their contributions. A communitarian company works as an organisation where a number of people agree to contribute their labour, industry and services, to develop one or more rural properties for commercial gain. This includes the processing, commercialisation and marketing of agricultural products as well as the provision of services. Members of the organisation can also engage in other related activities if they are necessary to fulfill the purposes of the communitarian company.
The communitarian company has the objective of improving the standard of living of its members at an economic, cultural and social level and ensuring sustainable work and food security for each of its members. Members of the company are only liable up to the amount of their respective contributions, which means that their personal assets are protected from any breach or noncompliance of the communitarian company. This serves to protect the small-scale farmer, which helps strengthen their bargaining position.
Associations such as co-operatives and communitarian companies can also work together or even merge to grow and expand their influence. The possibility of this could create larger scale associative forms of working which tend to be more efficient. Both co-operatives and communitarian companies are specifically regulated by Law 454 of 1998, and are subject to the control exercised by a specific control entity.