MASERU — Co-operatives can help slash unemployment and boost economic growth in Lesotho, Trade Minister Popane Lebesa said on Monday.
Lebesa, who was removed as trade minister yesterday, was addressing delegates attending the 9th International Co-operatives Alliance (ICA) Africa regional assembly in Maseru.
The delegates are from 12 African countries, including continental giants South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt.
Lebesa said the challenge was to develop co-operatives into viable businesses that can generate income for their members and offer high quality services.
“Co-operatives in Africa should aim to offer good services that will transform them into better businesses where they can offer good services to their customers,” Lebesa said.
The week-long regional assembly will be used to come up with best strategies that can ensure sustainability and better management among co-operatives.
Lebesa said there had been significant improvements in the manner co-operatives were being run in Lesotho with most of them now managing to finance their day-to-day operations.
“The last three decades were not successful for the co-operatives in the region.
“However, there have been changes in the last few years which have been encouraging,” he said.
He said the improvements had resulted in sustainable co-operatives and a significant drop in the rate of unemployment.
“There has been an increase in the number of youth co-operatives that finance themselves which is good for the sustainability and development of the country,” Lebesa said.
He said ICA members were facing market challenges which could be solved by increasing trade among co-operatives in the region.
Speaking at the assembly, ICA Africa president Stanley Muchiri said most co-operatives around the world experienced good financial growth and stability even in times of global financial turmoil.
“Co-operatives around the world provide about 100 million jobs,” Muchiri said.
He said they were currently undertaking feasibility studies on the need to create an endowment fund to help co-operatives develop and increase their capacity to improve their sustainability.
ICA director general Charles Gould said the resilience shown by co-operatives in these tough economic times showed there were lots of opportunities in the future.
“This next decade will present a lot of opportunities for co-operatives. Our main challenge is to develop strategies to ensure that co-operatives remain sustainable and continue to develop,” Gould said.
He said co-operatives in Africa needed to move from the short-term survival mode to focus on long-term survival and sustainability.
“Too many people have suffered from failed systems,” Gould said.
“The world is learning what co-operatives have always known — coming together to increase economic and social growth.”
In Lesotho most co-operatives have historically been financed by international development partners such as the Canadian Co-operative Association.
Most of these co-operatives however collapsed after these international partners stopped funding the projects.
Over the last three decades most co-operatives in Lesotho were mainly in the agricultural sector with others in the savings and credit arena.
The country has however diversified from the traditionally agricultural-based co-operatives to focus on other business interests such as tourism.