Cooperatives: Reviving The Vital Dev’t Tool

Cooperative movement in Cameroon is almost as old as the country’s history, but as the world evolves, the once vibrant development tool is rather almost becoming a shadow of itself. In fact, cooperative movement, which is a grouping of people with the same interest where management rights are equal and the profits shared amongst them in proportion to their activities, was the way to go in the yesteryears in Cameroon. People created them in bulk and the contribution they left in socio-economic development was remarkable, to say the least.
According to OpenEdition Journals on “Cooperative Movements in the Western Highlands of Cameroon,” the history of cooperative movements in the Western Highlands of Cameroon is linked to the production of Arabica coffee. It is even said that several initiatives gave rise to the Agricultural Cooperative of the West which provided services in the areas of coffee production, pulping, collection and sales to local or non-local importers. The different groups that came up thereafter later came together to form the well-known Central Union of West Region Agricultural Cooperatives (UCCAO). The evolution of cooperatives in the western highlands was similar to other parts of the country where people caught the vision to federate efforts, ideas and resources to champion their self-reliant development.  
People who lived the heydays of cooperative movements in the country can testify to how it contributed to the growth of social capital, social integration, fight against poverty and unemployment.  The active and effective membership participation in the day-to-day running of the structures sharpened the skills of many of them with best governance practices that even benefitted the central government. In fact, as help-help organisations, with proper monitoring and support of the government, cooperatives contributed to rapid economic growth because of their capability to mobilize savings and capital which served as inputs in the production of goods and services of the less privileged members of the society. 
Global knowledge even teaches that cooperatives around the world help people work together to create sustainable enterprises that generate long-term jobs and community prosperity. This, by its propensity to bring local people together in a democratic and equal way. In effect, cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equity as well as solidarity and their members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. It is therefore an indispensable development tool with ethics and results-driven objectives that any responsible system cannot afford to do without.
Unfortunately, the liberalisation of the cooperative sector in the 1990’s led the State to withdraw support services like inspection, regulation and management training. What worsened the situation was the absence of a plan to replace these support services with an alternative institution that could perform the functions. The liberalisation of the market equally brought in new actors in economic sectors where cooperatives had previously enjoyed monopoly status. The market now comprised of many sellers and buyers, who were guided, not by ownership, but by efficiency, competitive pricing and transparency. For instance, in the agricultural sector, the marketing transaction process radically changed. Previously, the ownership of the produce rested with the State marketing board, which then temporarily delegated the same to cooperatives during the processing and marketing of the produce. Thus, cooperatives could claim ownership of the produce until the point of export when ownership reverted back to the marketing board. But in the liberalized market system, the ownership of produce became rather fragmented. An individual farmer owned it up to the point he/she could sell to the next owner, who could be a private buyer or a cooperative society. Cooperatives had, therefore, to compete with other players to buy and sell agricultural produce if they were to remain in business. This is how the notion of licensed and unlicensed buyers came into being with black marketing rather selling better. This negatively affected cooperative societies as corruption and misuse of funds became widespread in many cooperatives leading to bankruptcy with all the negative consequences one can imagine.
There is therefore an urgent need to right the wrongs and beat back life into the now near dormant socio-economic development purveyor. Underlining that cooperatives need to chip i...



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