The co-operative model is helping people across Africa overcome barriers and build better lives. Zimbabwean politician and a former Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Sithembiso Nyoni was a keynote speaker at the Alliance’s Global Conference in Antalya.
She talked about the role of co-operatives in tackling the challenges faced by Africa, including climate change.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to human development and our survival. It resulted not just in global warming but also in floods, droughts, and other changes leading to people struggling to survive, impacted on our water supply and food. In Zimbanwe the government has built small and big dams and co-ops have taken advantage of this to create fishing, irrigation and food production enterprises, she said.
Another land reform has enabled 500,000 families to engage in agriculture and livestock, leading to an increase in the number of agricultural co-operatives. “Beyond 2020 co-ops have a big opportunity to grow bigger and control agri businesses and the food industry”. She added that the governments of Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia had increased their budget for farmers and co-operatives. “This to me shows that they are looking beyond 2020,” she said.
Co-operatives are also making a difference in the energy sector, developing renewable solar power and biogas schemes. Ms Nyoni explained how in Kenya low carbon co-ops brought solar energy to villages. Some of the revenue also gets invested in fertilising land and biogas.
Saving and credit co-operatives are also empowering people across the continent. “I can never over emphasise the importance of saving and credit co-operatives in Africa, a lifeline to SMEs, to themselves and to the very poor,” she said.
In Kenya co-operators have formed a Co-operative Bank, now the third largest in that country,” she added.
Co-ops are the biggest provider of housing in Zimbabwe. However, they have to operate in a corrupt market. “Housing co-ops are infiltrated by land barons, selling land to co-ops in unconventional ways,” added Ms Nyoni.
“I feel we still don’t put enough emphasis on creating supportive environment and institutions for the recognition and support of co-ops. Another challenge is the digital gap between southern and northern co-ops. We need as the Alliance to build institutions for digital inclusiveness,” she said.
“You cannot kill co-ops, only inconvenience them. Africa is on the move. This is our century. The co-operative is our model.”