You’ll hear us talk often of Jenipher’s position as the Vice-chair of the Mt Elgon Agroforestry Communities Cooperative Enterprise or MEACCE in short, but what does it mean to be part of, and lead a cooperative?
In this blog, we explore the origins of cooperatives and why working cooperatively is key to producing such high-quality coffee, while also upholding the wellbeing of farmers and protecting the environment.
First of all, what is a cooperative?
The International Cooperative Alliance defines cooperatives as “people-centred enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realise their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations.” In other words, a cooperative is created by people who have a specific need and who are willing to come together to operate and organise a company that will meet that need.
The ten cooperative values are:
- Caring for others
- Social responsibility
Where did the idea of a cooperative come from?
The cooperative has roots in mid-Wales. Robert Owen, a Welsh textile manufacturer, often referred to as the ‘Father of the Cooperative Movement’ was born in Newtown. Owen was a successful businessman and set up a model community around his cotton mill between 1800-20. He paid higher wages for shorter hours than his competitors, provided housing and education for his works, and still turned a profit.
Later, in the 1840s, in Rochdale, then an industrial hub, mill workers were striking in response to falling wages and failure to improve their working conditions. 28 weavers, inspired in part by the ideas of Owen started the first successful co-operative enterprise, called the Equitable Pioneers of Rochdale.
Today, the UK’s biggest cooperative is The Co-operative (Co-op), also one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, owned by millions of members. Employing nearly 70,000 people, and the UK’s fifth-largest retailer, the Co-op is a recognised leader for its social goals and community-led programmes. The Co-op has a history of fair trading that can be traced back to 1844 and is the largest convenience seller of Fairtrade products today. We highly recommend their range of Fairtrade wines.
Cooperatives and Fairtrade
Shared decision-making and ownership are central principles in Fairtrade certified cooperatives. All members have a voice and vote in the decision-making process of the organisation. Members also decide collectively how to use the Fairtrade Premium – the fixed extra sum of money paid on top of the selling price, which farmers themselves decide collectively how to spend. This enables farmers to invest in activities to meet their needs and boost their incomes and productivity.
A study into Fairtrade’s impact over five years found that Fairtrade contributes towards increased dignity, confidence, and choice for producers and that the active participation of farmers in democratic decision-making plays a central role in this. It also found that Fairtrade supports farmers to achieve more stability, particularly in times of crisis.
What is the history of cooperatives in Uganda?
In Uganda, cooperatives have been through a more complicated journey, first introduced by the British in 1913, they were then seen as a way of organising small-scale agriculture and centralising the marketing of key products like cotton and coffee. After independence in 1962, they increasingly became instruments of the state.
By today, cooperatives are considered truly independent and can compete on their own terms. They have the opportunity to develop with the interest of their members as their central concern, and the capacity to make a serious contribution to economic and social development. For decades, farmers on the slopes of Mt Elgon, who each farm just a few acres of land, have harnessed the power of working cooperatively to gain a foothold in the marketplace, and to access networks of knowledge, training and funding.
What does the MEACCE cooperative look like today?
The MEACCE cooperative is owned by 11 primary cooperatives, with a combined membership of 3664 farmers. The cooperative has a decision-making process that focuses on collective responsibility for every action. All members have a voice and vote in the decision-making process of the organisation.
As a Fairtrade cooperative, members also decide collectively how to use the Fairtrade Premium – the fixed extra sum of money paid on top of the selling price, which farmers themselves decide collectively how to spend. This enables farmers to invest in activities to meet their needs and boost their incomes and productivity. MEACCE works within the vision of enhancing productivity within sustainable limits.
The members of MEACCE appoint a general assembly of five members every two years, who are entrusted with providing leadership and guiding the cooperative. Jenipher is currently one of those five members and holds the position of Vice-chair. While cooperatives are inclusive in nature, societal structures do not make it easy for women to reach such levels of leadership.
In her role, Jenipher is setting a precedent that women are gifted leaders, inspiring the next generation and supporting her community to act for a sustainable future. Through her compassionate leadership, Jenipher is showing that building agreement and working towards a common goal is an efficient and sustainable way of doing business; bringing prosperity more fairly and equitably to the whole community.
"Being part of a co-operative is very special as we work so closely together, like a family. As the first female chair of my primary society (Bunabude), and vice-chair of the secondary society (MEACCE), I get to ensure that women’s voices are heard and that we shape the organisation for everyone’s benefit."Jenipher