COOPERATIVES play an important role in the development of any country as they contribute massively in alleviating poverty especially in rural areas.
The afro centric systems highlights communal work and benefit from one’s sweat a practice that was common in traditional Africa.
Government and the private sector have over the years used cooperatives to assist smallholder producer’s increase their production and contribute effectively to economic development.
A cooperative can thus be defined as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common goal.
Cooperatives in Zambia hail back as early as 1914 when the European settler farmers got together to form them as a means of marketing agricultural produce.
During the colonial period, Lusaka whose main commercial activities were quarrying and agriculture was a bastion of cooperatives. Farmers who owned farms like Emmasdale, Villa Elizabetha and Foxdale formed cooperatives and provided food for the small settler and growing African community.
Over the years cooperatives have evolved from ill-organised entities to better their impact and contribution to agro development.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and livestock statistics, there are about 20,379 registered cooperatives in Zambia from all provinces.
Zambia Cooperative Federation (ZCF) director general James Chirwa explains that the history of cooperative movement in Zambia dates back from the time of independence up to 1965 when first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda made the pronouncement under the Chifubu declaration of 1969.
Mr Chirwa says Dr Kaunda declared the cooperatives as mass empowerment economic organisations.
This was after realising that the cooperatives are very user-friendly structures or enterprises which can easily be formed by ordinary
Zambians although their strength lies in numbers in that the more people put resources together for a common purpose.
“So when we talk about the development of cooperatives in this country, I will always want to get back to the Chifubu declaration of1969, where Kaunda declared cooperatives as mass empowerment economic organisations.’’
“So the cooperative movement was promoted by Dr Kaunda and by 1973, through a Government initiative ZCF was formed to promote and coordinate the cooperative development issues in the country,” Mr Chirwa said.
“By the mid of 1980’s an immense development of cooperative enterprises throughout the provinces emerged and there was no province which was spared from the development that came from the cooperatives that time.
This meant that there was employment at district level, provincial level and citizens did not need to rush Lusaka chasing for jobs because there were jobs within their regions at the time cooperatives
were rated as the third largest employer in the country.
Cooperatives spread their tentacles into various forms of businesses such as transportation, insurance and micro finance.
So these cooperatives did almost everything that the economy provided,” he said.
The development of cooperatives was affected negatively by change of the administration in October 1991 which brought about its own challenges for the cooperative movement.
This was because Government introduced a liberalized economy with emphasis on private sector development which meant that cooperatives were no longer to be state-sponsored or associated with the party in Government.
As a result the majority of cooperatives collapsed. As at June 1997, there were 2, 080 registered cooperative societies out of which 1,254 were dormant and the remaining 826 were active but largely operating below capacity levels.
The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) also affected the Government institutional arrangements responsible for cooperative development through restructuring.
The full-fledged Ministry of Cooperatives was abolished in 1991 and
its functions were placed in the larger Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) as a mere section in the newly created Food
Security Division (FSD).
The abolition of Ministry of Cooperative and the Cooperatives Development Department brought about its own consequences.
At that time, the Government created laws which were injurious to the
development of cooperatives and the cooperative societies Act was changed, and that the one being used currently is what has affected
the development of cooperatives, as the role of Government is not clearly defined.
It is against this backdrop that Government is doing everything possible to ensure that the cooperative movement in Zambia is revived
for the benefit of many Zambians and the economy at large.