Using a comparative study of farm households from poor rural communities in Kyrgyzstan and north-east Romania this paper explores the intricacies of a variety of forms of cooperation in agriculture. The findings highlight the safety net, labour specialisation, asset-pooling and service delivery functions of different groups that enable rural livelihoods to, at times, cope and at times improve in situations of imperfect information, sluggish labour and land markets, and constrained capital markets. The research presented here indicates that small to medium forms of cooperation provide the rural poor with predictable livelihood strategies under conditions of uncertainty. Specifically, cooperative action, in the form of groups, substitutes for imperfect markets. Despite the push for decollectivisation and privatisation across transition countries there remains a place for encouraging group initiatives, at least for the medium term, on the grounds of both poverty alleviation and agricultural growth.