THE government has committed to foster the development of cooperatives at schools and tertiary educational institutions as part of interventions to ensure such enterprises are sustainable.
This is according to Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing Minister Chalane Phori who also stated that improving access to finance for cooperatives ranked high among his list of priorities.
Mr Phori made the remarks while officially opening of the four-day Youth Cooperatives Forum in Maseru on Monday that featured representatives from Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Dubbed BOLESWA Tripartite, the grouping is an alliance of members of cooperatives working together to tackle the challenges they encounter in their operations. It provides a platform for members of youths-owned cooperatives to discuss issues affecting the development of their enterprises. They also share experiences and devise means of collaboration.
Financially supported by the ministry, the BOLESWA Tripartite also serves the role of informing the government about some of the issues affecting the operations of cooperatives.
Mr Phori said the waning fortunes of cooperative societies needed to be arrested if Lesotho was to reduce unemployment and spur economic growth.
“The greatest challenge facing cooperatives in Lesotho is that they are not sustainable, hence the declining number of active enterprises in recent years,” he said.
In 2007, about 247 cooperatives were operational, the minister said. However, this figure has since gone down to 174 in 2016, despite new cooperatives being registered during that period.
Mr Phori, who is also an entrepreneur through his Hlaselang Tlala Basotho Cooperative, identified poor management practices and failure to comply with the relevant laws among the main reasons for the lacklustre performances of cooperatives in the country.
He said fostering the development of cooperatives at schools and tertiary educational institutions would be among the ministry’s interventions.
“My plans to foster the revival of the sector include promoting cooperatives at school and tertiary institutions to fight the challenge of unemployment in youth in Lesotho.
“We are going to encourage youths to form cooperatives before they graduate from tertiary institutions.”
To ensure the sustainability of the projects, Mr Phori said the ministry would encourage the youths to embark on ventures that did not require importing raw materials.
“We will emphasise on projects using indigenous resources to avoid a needless dependency on imports. We will also work towards easing access to finance for small businesses and cooperatives.”
Commissioner of Cooperatives, Maphamoli Lekoetje, told the Lesotho Times on the side-lines of the forum that it was imperative to resuscitate the cooperatives movement.
“By investing our resources on youths-run cooperatives, we are actually securing the future of the cooperative movement in Lesotho since we are inculcating good governance principles in them at an early age,” Ms Lekoetje said.
“Youths-run cooperatives are therefore more sustainable than those run by older people. We have never experienced such challenges as the misuse of the cooperatives’ funds among youths, which is common among adults.”
For his part, Thabo Mothibeli who is the secretary-general of the Lesotho Youth Cooperatives Alliance (LYCA) – an umbrella body for all types of youth cooperatives in Lesotho – said collaborating with their BOLESWA counterparts would open up many opportunities for local cooperatives.
Mr Mothibeli said they would soon establish an inter-trade trade network among the three countries.
“This year, we are working towards one of the most important aspects of our alliance which is to launch an inter-trade initiative among our members from the three countries,” he said.
“This means that products from Botswana that are not available in Lesotho can be sold here in Lesotho, and likewise our products will also be available in Botswana and Swaziland.”