The United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC), highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development, particularly their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration. The Government of Nepal and cooperative activists have planned to mark the IYC-2012 by organizing various programmes giving a boost to the country’s cooperatives movement. For this, the government, through a cabinet meeting, has endorsed various programmes to observe the IYC. Celebrating with the theme of ‘Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World’, the event seeks to encourage the growth and establishment of cooperatives all over the world. It also encourages individuals, communities and governments to recognize the cooperatives as a means to achieve internationally agreed upon development goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In this backdrop, Yogesh Pokharel of The Rising Nepal caught up with Keshav Badal, the Chairman of the National Cooperatives Federation (NCF), an umbrella organization of the cooperatives unions across the country, to talk about the programmes and activities of the Nepalese cooperatives movement during the year and other issues of the movement. Excerpts:
The UN General Assembly has declared 2012 as the IYC Year. Why do you think has the global body taken this initiative?
As both the state-controlled and liberal economy failed globally, the UN General Assembly has declared 2012 as the ICY Year to give a message that the world should address the economic problems in a different way. Thought the state-controlled economy helped promote social justice, it could not increase the pace of productivity. That is why, though it promoted the social equity, it became the equity of poverty. Similarly, the liberal economy has widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots, urban and rural, and promoted a culture that very few chunk of people hold sway over huge properties across the world.
How the Nepalese cooperatives sector is going to mark the event?
The government and cooperative activists have planned to organize various events such as rallies, awareness campaigns, publicity programmes, conference, tours among other programmes to mark the IYC. We have officially launched the IYC in Nepal on Magh 13. Thereafter, the NCF has formed a national committee that is going to organize an international gathering on June 3-4. We have asked all the cooperatives across the country to organize at least one programme during the IYC-2012. We have already held more than 1,000 various types of programme this year.
Although the Interim Constitution of Nepal-2063BS has included cooperatives as one of the three pillars of our economy, neither the government nor the cooperatives movement has brought any significant programmes to enhance the contribution of this sector. What do you say about this?
I fully agree with you that the government has no specific programmes to boost the sector. However, we, on the part of the cooperative movement, have been constantly lobbying for introducing some programmes for promoting the cooperatives sector in the country. We are trying our best to include more and more provisions of cooperatives sector in the new constitution.
How do you assess the cooperatives movement in Nepal?
Largely, the cooperatives movement in Nepal is dynamic. The year 2011/12 is the year in which we had extensive debates on the issue of cooperatives in our country. People from various walks of life, including intellectuals, stepped down to the floor with their perspectives for and against the cooperatives to take part in the debate. This year, the cooperatives sector has been able to be the issue of national debate in its 55-year history. We have formulated a strategic plan, cooperatives policy.
Quantitatively, there are around 24,000 cooperatives across the country. There is at least three per cent contribution of this sector to the gross domestic products (GDP). The share capital has exceeded to Rs. 20 billion with the annual turnover of Rs. 150 billion in the cooperatives. The number is growing. However, there is a challenge for enhancing their capacity and knowledge with proper training and education.
Besides, the cooperatives sector has played a significant role in creating social harmony, awareness, maintaining gender balance, inclusion and democratization in the economic sector.
Initially, the concept of cooperatives had started with an aim of attaining inclusive and equal development. But if we look at the context of Nepal, we find that nearly 80 per cent of the cooperatives are established and operated in the urban centres.
First of all, cooperatives are directly related with people. Where there are people, there are cooperatives. Definitely, there is more population in the urban areas. Therefore, it is likely to have more cooperatives in such urban areas. However, we have cooperatives in all the 75 districts and in almost all the villages.
What do you think are the reasons behind the failure to develop production-based cooperatives in line with the saving and credit cooperatives?
The country itself is in transition. Owing to this, we could not have focused on forming production-based cooperatives. As saving and credit cooperatives are easier to operate compared to production-based cooperatives, their number is undeniably higher.
People often criticize that there was only quantitative growth of cooperatives in Nepal rather than the qualitative one. What is the reality?
Yes, I agree with you. It is mainly in the dearth of supporting infrastructures, technical guidance and proper knowledge. However, we have asked the government to enhance the Nepalese cooperatives movement.
The cooperatives often face criticism for promoting evils and littering the society. As the chairman of the umbrella organization of the cooperatives across the country, what is your say?
We have been reiterating that if someone does not follow the seven principles, norms and characteristics of cooperatives, s/he should not join the cooperatives movement. Besides, there are trends that people often see negative aspects. There may be 99 per cent positive aspect and one per cent negative. However, people often notice the negative aspect. However, we should not blame the whole movement in the name of few opportunists and anomalies.
You said there is around Rs. 150 billion as a deposit in the cooperatives sector. What types of plan do you have to mobilize such a huge amount?
We have been effortful in mobilizing the deposits of the cooperatives in various productive sectors. We have been preparing legal and policy ground to mobilize the deposits in such a way that it will help substitute the imports, promote exports, create employment, alleviate poverty and move the total economy of the country ahead. Hydropower, small and cottage industries are some of the potential sectors.
The government has recently established a separate ministry, Ministry of Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, to look after the cooperatives sector. How do you think it will go further?
The establishment of a separate ministry will help promote the cooperatives movement in the country. It will bring this sector into a well-ordered system. The cooperative sector was directionless in the dearth of a proper line ministry for long.
There were always problems with convincing the secretaries and ministers on the issues and obstacles of the cooperatives movement. Once we manage to convince them in some way, it would be difficult for us to concentrate them on our business. Now, there will be a particular job for them. They will get some knowledge themselves as they have to lead the ministry.
What are the challenges for developing the Nepalese cooperatives sector?
Addressing the lack of adequate knowledge, professional and skilled human resources and supporting environment are some of the challenges facing this sector in Nepal. The government should focus on facilitating the movement in several ways such as imparting trainings, building up infrastructure and creating awareness.
How do you the prospects of this sector?
There are ample prospects of cooperatives in Nepal. There is an increased attraction of people towards the cooperative movement. However, the government should aptly guide the movement with a proper check and balance mechanism. Otherwise, it might get derailed.