Cooperatives as a strategy to survival Print E-mail
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Friday, 01 November 2013 00:00

(Top and Bottom) Women from Esperanza, Santa Familia, San Antonio and Succotz participating in a recent training in food preservation, brought about by the efforts of the Ministry of Natural Resource & Agriculture and the Women’s Department “The constant in all success stories has been critical mass and organization. Those that form solid groups remain in business; loners almost always disappear.”

That is the warning from Francisco Guiterrez, Director of Plant Health, at the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) in his review of experiences and market demands from agriculture Small Medium Enterprise (SME) exporters in Belize and Latin America. The occasion was a workshop on the International Promotion of Agricultural SME’s, which was recently held at the George Price Center for Peace and Development and where the idea of Cooperatives in the production of high quality goods was periodically discussed.

The importance of Cooperatives in the production of goods for both the local and export markets was also highlighted by Gareth Murrillo, Registrar of Cooperatives, who was present for two consecutive days on the Workshop on SME’s.

A cooperative is established in Belize when there are at least ten members who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic and cultural benefit. The stimulus to be in a cooperative may arise at the end of the fiscal period, when there is a profit and where dividends go to members.

The cooperative philosophy was introduced into Belize in the 1930s’, but it was the Saint Peter Claver’s Credit Union in the Toledo District which became the first registered cooperative in 1943. Today Belize has 226 registered cooperative for which only 53 are currently active; with 37 having some agriculture related activity. There are cooperatives now engaged in the processing of fruits and vegetables and in the production of jams, jellies, seasonings, sauce, seaweed and even dried fruit. Added to that, Belize now has cooperatives engaged in livestock production cattle, swine, mutton, chickens, ducks and turkeys.
It is the Department of Cooperative’s task under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture to regulate and maintain a Register of Cooperative as established by Chapter 313 of the Laws of Belize. The Department of Cooperatives conducts annual audits of each cooperative, as well as evaluation exercises and capacity building.

Following the 2012 celebration as the International Year of Cooperatives, the Belize Department of Cooperatives has reinvigorated its efforts to advocate for groups to work together towards a common cause.
“…if you have two farmers from the same village taking produce to town, both of them driving trucks taking in their produce, when they get to the market they compete against each other with prices; that is not the cooperative model and that is also a challenge for us at the Department [of Cooperatives] in terms of building capacities within the societies that they understand that you are supposed to market and promote together and if you do that then you can bargain more easily and you can look at access to the market,” says Gareth Murillo.

Once the hurdle to establishing a cooperative has been completed, producers can concentrate in satisfying the local needs or the export markets; with the latter promising a bounty as a result of high population growth rates in the Region. It is now recognized that there are investors out there who are willing to make an investment in agriculture or in tourism but would only do so within the cooperative model.