A cooperative is a working or ownership collective in which the members have rights and duties as set down in statutes and regulations. While members' duties include participating in the work of the cooperative and assuming official functions, their rights include the use of goods and facilities owned by the cooperative.
In Valais, cooperatives arose out of medieval farming guilds. For centuries, these cooperatives governed agricultural life in Valais with rules and regulations, in particular pertaining to the use of common goods such as water, forests and alpine pastures. The cooperatives were responsible for constructing and maintaining collective infrastructure such as water channels, roads, alpine machinery and ovens. In spite of today’s changed environment, the cooperatives in Valais still fulfil important legal, economic, ecological and social functions.
A key issue for the cooperatives has always been the challenge of finding a balance between optimal use of resources and their sustainability. The joint administration and use of common goods helps to save on costs and strengthens cohesion among the members, reinforcing the sense of responsibility for the common good. These ecological and social functions give the cooperatives potential for the future.