The Co-operative Movement
The Mauritian Co-operative Movement is one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere. Mauritius adopted the co-operative formula at the dawn of the 20th century to uplift the plight of the poverty stricken section of the population.
In 1909, a Royal Commission was instituted by the British Colonial Government to solve the problems faced by the sugar cane planting community to obtain finance on reasonable terms. The progress made by village banks on the “Raiffeisen Model” in India impressed the commissioners, and the Royal Commission recommended the setting up of Co-operative Credit Societies on the Indian pattern.
The first Co-operative Credit Societies were set up in 1913 to reduce the dependence of the small planters on private money lenders and brokers. These co-operative societies were established to provide credit and marketing facilities to the small planters engaged in the sugar sector.
People recognized the potential of co-operatives in enabling them to improve their standard of living and moving up the social ladder. With time, co-operatives diversified and after more than 90 years of existence, the movement has expanded considerably and encompasses numerous fields of economic activities. Today there are more than 30 different socio-economic activities which are serviced by single and multi-purpose co-operatives. Co-operatives in Mauritius and Rodrigues consist of about 150,000 members grouped in no less than 760 co-operative societies and answer for a turnover exceeding Rs 4 billion.
The Mauritian Co-operative Movement is organized on a three-tier structure: the Primary Co-operatives, the Secondary Societies and the Apex Organisation.
The Primary Co-operative societies, grouping individuals on a single or multipurpose basis at the primary level are involved in around 30 different activities. At the secondary level, the primary co-operatives are grouped on a sectoral basis into 13 Federations. The Mauritius Co-operative Union Ltd which regroup primary co-operative societies in all sectors is considered to be the apex organization.
Organisation Structure of Co-operative Societies
Co-operative Societies are autonomous organizations, regulated by the Co-operatives Act 2005 as amended. The Co-operative Societies are owned by the members and managed by their members. The Managing Committee of the co-operative is elected by the members at the Annual General Meeting of the society.
The main economic activities undertaken by Co-operative Societies and their contribution to the Mauritian Economy
The first co-operative society was registered in 1913 in the sugar-cane sector. With time, the movement gathered momentum and it nestled comfortably amidst food crop growers, livestock breeders, artisans, fishermen, salaried workmen. Today co-operatives are being encouraged to penetrate new fields of activities. New Co-operative Societies being registered are thus moving from the traditional sectors to new sectors such as financial consultancy and investment, catering and freeports.
The main economic activities in which the contribution of co-operatives has been significant are:
production and marketing of sugar cane
production and marketing of vegetable and fruit
savings and credit
In the agricultural sector, co-operators are playing an important role in the production of sugar, vegetable, fruit and flower, milk, meat and fish.
Nearly 40% of sugar-cane planters are grouped in co-operatives and the share of co-operatives in the National Sugar Production is around 12%.
Co-operative Societies also account for more than 60% of national production in the food crop sector - 75% of onion consumption, 40% of potatoes and about 70% of fresh green vegetables are produced by co-operatives.
The Co-operative Credit Unions (CCU) are performing well in providing thrift and savings facilities to its members. This sector is helping considerably the working class to have access to quick and easy loans. The CCU sector is developing very fast and is the one which groups the largest number of individuals. It comprises some 138 societies with a membership of around 66,000 and disburses loans nearing Rs 1.3 billion.
There are about 760 individual and private bus-owners grouped in eight Bus Owners Co-operative Societies providing transport service to the general public. The Co-operative Bus Sector represents some 37% of the national bus transport.
The Co-operative Movement in the changing environment of Liberalisation, Democratisation and Decentralisation
Despite the progress made by co-operatives, co-operatives in Mauritius, as co-operatives in the world over, are in a state of flux as they are facing one or more of the following problems:
Lack of Capital
No Strategic Planning
Lack of rigorous control mechanism
Poor participation of co-operators
Negligible equity participation
Co-operatives are being advised to concentrate on internal adjustment, structural changes, improved decision process, greater emphasis on value-added operations, mobilization of members capital, attracting new blood in the co-operative movement and deployment of advanced technologies so as to strengthen their credibility, improve their efficiency and to maintain a comparative advantage in the market place.
Government and Co-operatives
One interesting aspect of co-operatives in Mauritius is that they all fall under the control and supervision of a Ministry.
Government not only reckons the contribution of co-operatives in the generation of national income, the economic democratisation process and in the strengthening of the foundation of the present economy but views co-operatives as instruments of social justice whereby a substantial number of people especially from the lower strata may improve their real and relative position thus reducing diseconomies which may arise from social imbalance.
Co-operatives shall continue to be an important means to empower the least privileged persons and those at the perpetual risk of becoming poor to achieve economic security, an acceptable standard of living and a better quality of life. The potential of co-operatives to contribute to the solutions of national, economic, social and environmental problems is also increasingly recognized.
Government will leave no stone unturned in the promotion and development of co-operatives. However, its role shall be limited to that of a facilitator and enabler in creating a conducive environment for the emergence of successful co-operatives.
The Government is encouraging the setting up of co-operative societies at various levels: at the level of the family in the form of small & medium enterprises, at the place of work in the form of credit unions, in schools, in women associations. Such endeavour will encourage the economic development of the people and further strengthen the tie between individuals and different groups of people.
Challenges facing the Co-operative Sector
Co-operatives to become financially and functionally autonomous.
Co-operatives to adopt new management and accounting techniques.
Co-operatives to target business efficiency and effectiveness while adhering to their social objectives.
Formation of co-operatives in new sectors.
Appropriate HRD policies and programmes to be adopted by co-operatives.