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Focus on local cooperatives

Filipe Naigulevu
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

COOPERATIVES are something that is hugely underplayed in the Pacific and is also not demonstrated at a trade level, says FMF Foods Ltd managing director Ram Bajekal.

Mr Bajekal highlighted that co-operatives was one aspect of society where aid for trade could be channelled towards inclusive development.

He raised this while speaking as a panellist during the Aid for Trade in Asia and the Pacific conference held at the University of the South Pacific (USP) Laucala campus in Suva last week.

"We have the mataqali, we have the wantoks, we have such strong community networks. Why is that we are not able to translate that into cooperatives and build something," he said.

"So what prevents us from starting cooperatives?"

Mr Bajekal stressed that aid, from a private sector or commercial perspective, should be really looking at where Fiji's co-strengths were.

These strengths, he said, were in tourism, agriculture and people talent.

The two-day workshop focused on key findings from the ADB 2017 Aid for Trade Report which analyses how AfT can increase trade in services through regulatory reform and modern trade facilitation such as paperless trade.

University of the South Pacific (USP) academic and economist Dr Neelesh Gounder concurred with the view and said there was a need to look at how we could bring cooperatives back in the rural areas including the islands and outlying islands and other areas.

This, he highlighted, was how hard aid for trade could promote inclusive development in Fiji and the Pacific.

"Cooperatives and local business models based on central and geographical clusters," Dr Gounder said.

"If you look at the history of cooperatives in Fiji, it goes back to the 1920s and the reasons why the sugar industry was so successful in rural areas because of cooperatives.

"One farmer cannot buy a tractor, but when 10 farmers get together they are able to do it."

Dr Gounder said the cooperatives business mainly relied on trust and social cohesion.

"So as a society loses trust and social cohesion, it has had an impact on cooperatives and ability of different groups to effectively communicate and trust each," he said.

Dr Gounder also highlighted opportunities for expanding traditional agriculture production for example agribusinesses and increasing market intelligence link between farmers and hotels.

And in an increasingly market-driven world, agribusiness cooperatives are strengthening vertical and horizontal links along the value chain to be more reliable and profitable.

"What are we measuring when we are talking about inclusive development? When we are talking about inclusive development, it extends beyond economic aspects to include social and environmental dimensions," Dr Gounder said.

"Aid for trade basically talks about trade related programs and projects and at the domestic level, in each of the Pacific Island countries, how can social issues can be mainstreamed into the trade agenda."

Dr Gounder also stressed the importance of the aid for trade agenda which was its impact on the welfare of women and children and how it increased women's employment opportunities.

"Aid for trade can foster greater competition in the labour market as well as how the labour market can play a role in the removal of market barriers to entry," he said.

Meanwhile, the cooperatives movement in Fiji have brighter days ahead of them with moves to form the umbrella body — The National Cooperative Federation (NFC) -solely for the promotion of economic and social interests of cooperatives in Fiji.


Condition for registration

* A group may apply for registration if it has 10 or more members who are above the age of 18 years.

Registration procedure:

* The above group of 10 or more people meets for the purpose of forming a "formation committee".

The formation committee:

* This committee consisting of at least seven persons who shall:

* organise meetings of entire membership to discuss the objects and operations of the proposed co-operative;

* compile a list of prospective members and a record of probable share capital contribution;

* prepare the proposed by-laws;

* undertake all other necessary activities for the purpose of preparing the cooperative for registration as a business entity.

The founders meeting:

The founders' meeting is convened by the formation committee after all registration documents are prepared and that the business is ready for registration.

At this meeting:

* the prospective members shall formally decide to form a co-operative and sign a written declaration to this effect;

* a register of members shall be opened;

* the proposed by-laws shall be approved;

* the first office bearers of the cooperative shall be elected.

Registration form:

The application for registration is made on the prescribed form to be submitted to the Registrar of Co-operatives with the following;

* a copy of the minutes of the founders meeting;

* the proposed by-laws signed by the applicants;

* a list of the office bearers, their names, addresses and qualifications;

* the registration fees of $115.00

* feasibility study report or business plan giving all budget plan estimates and cash flow forecast of the proposal

Approval for registration

* If the Registrar of Co-operatives is satisfied that the Co-operative has complied with the provisions of the Co-operatives Act, the registrar shall then approve registration and signs its by-laws. A certificate of registration will then be issued.

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