Opportunities exist, but co-operatives in South Africa lack the infrastructure and finance to supply to the international market.
This is the view of business owner Lucky Mabethe, who attended the Co-operatives conference hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in 2013.
The third of its kind under the theme “Partnerships for Development, Integration and Industrialisation through Co-operatives”, the conference is a meeting of co-operative organisations from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics).
“I am not saying that government should do everything for us. We just need a kick-start so that we can compete with the big companies,” says Mabethe.
He mentioned an example of an Israeli agricultural co-operative, whose owner he met at the event. The Israeli co-operative struggled without a consistent water supply, but managed to work successfully with their government in order to access water.
He lauded the South African National Apex Co-operative (Sanaco) for putting together a great event and for trying to grow co-operatives in the country. Sanaco is the country’s co-operative umbrella body, and co-hosted the two-day conference along with the DTI.
Mabethe says his company, which produces sunflower oil and wheat in the North West, is a member of Sanaco and through it have benefited from access to financial institutions and help with business plans.
According to Sanaco president Lawrence Bale, co-operatives in South Africa benefited hugely from the conference.
“From an organisational point of view, the country did itself proud by hosting a successful meeting attended by delegates from all the five Brics countries,” says Bale.
He said deliberations centered on critical and strategic issues that affect co-operatives in these countries.
“Top of the list was promoting trade, investment and collaboration among co-operatives in the Brics countries. We also discussed and reached consensus on issues relating to collaboration on capacity-building and ensuring that co-operatives are sustainable.”
He identified the two memorandums of understanding that Sanaco signed with co-operative umbrella bodies from China and India as some of the positive and commendable outcomes of the meeting.
“Co-operatives in the agriculture sector that can provide wine and co-operatives in the fisheries sector stand to benefit the most since there is a great demand for those products from Chinese consumers,” says Bale.
Bale encourages co-operatives from these sectors to contact Sanaco for facilitation since its role in this agreement is to facilitate opportunities identified by counterparts.
“In order to take advantage of these opportunities, you need to prove that your co-operative has the capabilities to mass produce the products that need to be exported. There also needs to be a great emphasis on quality.
“The main focus is to trade with each other, but the partnership will also entail skills training and skills transfer,” says Bale.