African cooperative leaders share their observations on the 2017 ILO/JCCU study tour in Japan

The 8th edition of the ILO/Japanese Consumers' Cooperative Union (JCCU) Study Tour for African Cooperative Leaders took place in Japan from 29 August to 6 September 2017 with participants from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Swaziland and representatives from ICA Africa and ILO COOP Unit. ILO COOP interviewed the participants on their observations of the study tour and the next steps they would like to take in applying these observations. The managers of ILO-Tokyo, ILO COOP and JCCU also share their reflections on the study tour.

Article | 28 September 2017


Mr Samuel Addo OTOO (Ghana)
Chief Executive Officer, Easy Investment Coop Credit Union

Presentation on Easy Investment Coop Credit Union
“I was impressed with how cooperatives support the activities of small holder farmers with technology. This is an innovation in response to the rapid ageing of society.”

“Having up-to-date and sector-specific cooperative legislation allows the cooperative sector to flourish, as is the case in Japan. This is something we need in Ghana.”

What were the main insights you have gained from the study tour?

  • The first lesson is the promulgation and generation of separate laws regulating the various cooperative sectors such as Agriculture Co-operatives Act, Consumer Co-operatives Act, Labour Bank Act, etc. These laws provided a solid foundation and a basic right and obligation for the establishment of cooperative businesses across different sectors in Japan.
  • In Japan there are effective and efficient education, training and information resources available to the cooperative leaders, unions, members and the general public regarding the benefit of the cooperative business model. They provide a good basis for cooperatives to contribute to employment, economic growth and development through the individual, communal and national self-help ideology.
  • The level of participation by various stakeholders in cooperative value chains at various sectors provides great lessons. The respect for cooperative values and principles by the stakeholders as an international customary law practice is commendable. The process and methods of agriculture and agro product traceability, standardization and communication instil confidence, reliability and ensure sustainability.
  • Insurance and financial cooperatives guarantee a sustainable future for their members by reassuring them of a decent life. There is evidence of self-help, self-responsibility and concern for others.
  • The healthy financial and insurance base of members underline the health and welfare services that Japanese cooperatives provide for the vulnerable and the aged. Oizumi Health Cooperative Hospital that we visited during the tour adopts a hybrid system which focuses both on the environment and the individual health. The environment is clean whilst the food, water systems and all the consumable are healthy and environmentally friendly.
  • The establishment of cooperative business at the various universities makes good use of the existing populations as a market. University of Tokyo Cooperative provides meal, insurance, financial services, books and other allied services to the students, teachers and non-teaching staff and even the general public. It also support students to participate in employable skills training and learning.

What are the next steps you would like to take in making use of these insights?

  • Ghana has taken steps toward revising its legal framework on cooperatives. The existing law regulating all cooperative activities in Ghana is now half a century old (NRCD 252 of 1968). The law put all the cooperative activities under the ministry of employment and labour relations. While it is important to have an overall cooperative legislation, cooperative laws that recognize the sectoral specificities are also of value. Therefore there is a need to have a separate legislation for the various sectors of co-operative activities. Discussions have been initiated with various stakeholders to that effect in Ghana which we hope will bear fruit soon.
  • We also want to promote the establishment of cooperatives at the various tertiary institutions such as universities and polytechnics. The objective is to provide a platform for entrepreneurship, internship and capital accumulation towards improving the living conditions of the academia.
  • There has been a frequent fire outbreak at the various markets in Ghana. In all cases ordinary traders lose everything because the private insurance companies are not willing to accept the risk. We are making plans to begin discussions, education, training and information session with the market leaders to support them establish insurance and financial cooperatives which serve to stabilize members’ lives in event of disaster or accidents.
  • Efforts are being made towards the promotion and establishment of agriculture value chain cooperative at the various districts to bring farmers and non-farmers together. We would like to develop labour banks, labour insurance cooperatives and day care centre for the aged in the long term.
  • Activities are under way in Ghana to generate youth employment through education, training and information sharing on cooperatives. Engagement with policy makers, public information dissemination sessions, focus group discussions and sensitization are important. Emphasis on the cooperative values and principles, financial management, and people and process management are necessary as well. Conferences and seminars shall also be organized in this regard.

Mr Peter Kipkoech TALAM (Kenya)
Director, Magereza Savings and Credit Cooperative Society

Presentation on Magereza SACCO
“As I benefited greatly from this study tour I wish other Kenyan co-operators could also benefit from similar experiences.”

“In Kenya, cooperatives are strong in the financial sector. I feel that in Kenya cooperatives can do better in responding to the needs of farmers. The experience in Japan also made me think that we can reach out to other sectors like health care and education.”

What were the main insights you have gained from the study tour?

Some of the unique services identified and can be borrowed by the Kenyan cooperatives include the following:
  • Agricultural cooperatives in Japan offer vibrant and efficient technical support to members who practice farming and benefits from the dividends to non-farmer members. Their technical support to farmers include agricultural, credit, insurance services, and services for local community development. Services like mutual insurance and local community development are not properly established in the Kenyan cooperatives. Moreover, unlike Kenyan cooperatives, Japanese cooperatives have village administrative offices where members give their opinions that can be shared with head offices.
  • Japanese workers’ cooperatives provide childcare services which are open to both members and non-members. These kind of practices are yet to be adopted in Kenya. If adopted would provide Kenyan households with much needed services.
  • Japanese cooperatives also operate hospitals to provide medical and care services. They benefit their members and local communities through medical treatment, elderly care, health promotion activities such as awareness raising campaigns to improve individual daily habits and outreach activities to network with local residents.
  • Unlike Kenya, in Japan there is a national federation of university cooperatives association. The mandate of this federation is to oversee university cooperatives whose members are students. This model ensures that students are introduced to cooperatives at an early age. University cooperatives sign a service agreement contract with the university and they are entrusted with the welfare programmes of the university. They also engage in business activities for the university students, teachers and non-teaching staff such as retailing, dining, travel ticketing, mutual aid and insurance.
  • Japan also has labour banks which is similar to cooperative banks in Kenya. Labour banks in Japan are set up by trade unions as a service to their members. They respond to their members’ livelihood and welfare needs. The National Association of Labour Banks coordinates the operations of regional labour banks.

What are the next steps you would like to take in making use of these insights?

Based the lessons learnt from Japan, I would like to suggest Cooperative Alliance of Kenya (CAK) to consider the following messages:
  • Agricultural cooperatives could explore the option to offer mutual insurance services such as life and property insurance for farmers in addition to agricultural support services.
  • Agricultural cooperative could consider providing community development services at fair prices to generate extra revenue. Some of these services should include gas stations, elderly care, tourism, and event organization.
  • Cooperatives in Kenya can engage in extra income generating ventures besides tradition services. For instance in Japan, cooperatives operate childcare centres, hospitals, day care and elderly care homes to generate income and improve the welfare of members.
  • With the youth unemployment rate in Kenya currently standing at a high of 60 per cent, cooperatives in Kenya need to have service agreement with learning institutions to ensure that students are introduced to cooperatives at early age nurturing the culture of mutual help, self-reliance as well as savings and investment.
  • CAK should liaise with Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority (SASRA) to ensure there is a flexible and friendly regulatory framework that allows for cooperatives to operate freely without too many restrictions.

Mr Labaran Abdulkareem GARBA (Nigeria)
President, Niger State Teachers Endwell Multi-Purpose Cooperative Union

Presentation on Niger State Teachers Endwell Multi-Purpose Cooperative Union
“In Japan I have seen how cooperatives innovate across different sectors from labour banks and consumer cooperatives to agricultural cooperatives and health cooperatives in responding to challenges faced.”

“This is not a classroom learning situation, but one where we engage first hand with Japanese cooperative leaders visiting their enterprises, finding out about their successes and asking them about how they overcame their challenges.”

What were the main insights you have gained from the study tour?

  • I learnt basic facts about Japanese cooperative movement, its businesses, social activities and legislation.
  • I learnt that Cooperative is a form of enterprise that turns around people’s life for good. I also discovered that cooperatives provide job for the unemployed and job security for the employed.
  • Apart from turning around people’s lives for good and ensuring provision of jobs, I also learnt that a cooperative organization can contribute to the economic growth of a nation.
  • I also learnt that cooperatives are a movement where everybody is allowed to key-in irrespective of where they come from, what social or physical challenge they may face.

What are the next steps you would like to take in making use of these insights?

I would like to share the lessons/knowledge acquired from this study tour to my fellow co-operators through a series of workshops. In doing so I will use the photos and other presentation materials provided from the study tour.

Mr Musa Sydney SIBANDZE
President, Swaziland Farmers' Co-operative Union Limited

Presentation on Swaziland Farmers' Co-operative Union
“This has been an enriching learning for me especially on the role of agricultural cooperatives in facilitating small farmers’ access to inputs, finances, sorting, packaging, transport, value addition and markets.”

“Most impressive for me is that these cooperative leaders are not looking at the government or anyone else to assist them. Instead they are doing it themselves through determination, team-work and self-help with an understanding that cooperatives are businesses.”

What were the main insights you have gained from the study tour?

  • Cooperatives in Japan are well managed, regulated and structured. With each sector, there is a specific law regulating it. This ensures that specific regulations guide sector specific operations.
  • The concept of cooperatives is like a brand in Japan. Throughout the tour from one cooperative to the other I learnt that cooperatives are well managed and are profitable, a thing which is seldom in the case of our cooperatives.
  • Qualified personnel are in key areas of operations. This ensures that proper research is done to ensure that all projects undertaken are carefully studied before implementation. The people who were sharing their cooperative experiences with us were very clear and very convincing on the approaches applied and the results achieved.
  • Their understanding of cooperatives led some sectors to merge their cooperatives in order to have more bargaining power. This was exciting to me as I know that it is sometimes not so easy to convince people to agree to such mergers. This is a good lesson which I hope to impart to our many small cooperatives struggling separately on their own.

What are the next steps you would like to take in making use of these insights?

  • Firstly I will be sharing my experiences and observations with my Board of Directors and the Commissioner of Cooperatives. I have already shared the study tour materials with them and with other cooperatives stakeholders.
  • The Swaziland Farmers’ Cooperative Union (SWAFCU) is due to launch its turnaround strategy on the 5th October 2017 where the Minister responsible for Cooperatives has been invited. I will use this opportunity to share this wonderful experience with more than 150 people who include all our member delegates. I will also explain to them the importance of streamlining our organization with the other cooperative organizations. I will be sharing more about Japan Agriculture Cooperatives (JA) as our apex is expected to be doing the same for farmers’ cooperatives in Swaziland. I will also share with them my observations about the other cooperatives that we visited as this was an eye opener for me that cooperatives excelled in all these other sectors.
  • I will also explain the role that the government plays in Japan. I will also request our minister to support our members with government’s assistance with regards to the issues of land as this has also been a key issue with our farmer cooperatives for a long time now (Land Policy).
  • The most important thing we have agreed upon, with the Board of SWAFCU, is that we continue with our exercise where we are visiting all our member cooperatives in order to have a deeper insight of what each cooperative is doing. This exercise was started in August 2017 and will be completed by the end of October. After the launch, we shall have all the executive committee members coming together where we will be presenting the current situation on cooperatives, our position as SWAFCU and what we think needs to happen in the next one to three years, three to five years and five to 10 years as part of a strategic plan. This that will include what we learned from Japan (e.g. merging small and low performing cooperatives in order to allow them to become more vibrant, viable and economically sustainable).
  • We will start a member education campaign on cooperative management. We will be putting in place a six months intensive training plan from January 2018 to July 2018. These training sessions will also cover entrepreneurship courses where we will segment the cooperatives depending on their sizes and their business activities.
  • In September 2018 we want to roll out our first program where all our members would have been trained and oriented as to what we hope to achieve. We want our cooperatives to have a different perspective in doing business through their cooperatives. It is SWAFCU’s dream to assist the farmers from Farm Input Supply to Value addition on their produce which mainly is maize. SWAFCU members are requesting assistance with farm inputs and collection of their maize. They want to process and brand the maize for local and international markets.
  • We welcome someone from Japan to come and technically help us to develop our Strategic Plan which will incorporate the issue of merging of cooperatives.

Regional Director, International Co-operative Alliance Africa

Presentation on International Co-operative Alliance Africa
"In Africa small scale farmers are told they are too small to make any business sense, but the Japanese cooperatives have defied that narrative by turning these small businesses into success. They organized, mechanized, provided extension and a range of other services for small scale holders to become productive and create economies of scale."

"I was also impressed by how communities came together to establish health cooperatives which are also well integrated into the national health insurance system."

Mr Haruyoshi AMANO
Manager, International Department
Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union (JCCU)

Mr Haruyoshi AMANO
Cooperation among cooperatives is a guiding principle of the Japanese Consumer Cooperative Union (JCCU) which actively seeks to cultivate partnerships with cooperative movement and supportive international organizations around the world. There are many ways to promote international cooperation among cooperatives, namely, product trading, business skills training courses, exchange of knowledge and experiences, etc. The ILO/JCCU study tour is a good example of exchange of knowledge and experiences between Japanese and African cooperators.

The main aim of the tour is to give an opportunity to African cooperators to find out about the engagement of cooperative business in a range of different sectors in Japan. At the same time Japanese cooperators also get a chance to find out about the role and the potential of cooperatives in Africa through an exchange of ideas and dialogue with the study tour participants. The Japanese cooperatives also get exposed to universal value of cooperatives and gain confidence in their own businesses. For this reason, JCCU involves as many co-operators from different sectors in Japan as possible within this program.

The public seminar that is held at the end of the study tour every year is a very good opportunity for Japanese cooperators to learn about how cooperative businesses work in different countries in Africa. This year, in particular, thanks to the presentation of Dr Sifa Chiyoge, Regional Director of ICA Africa, we also had the opportunity to learn more about the current situation of African cooperative movement, its key initiatives and the challenges that they face.

In order to produce better results from this study tour, follow up activities need to be built into the programme. We are also working on ensuring that the participants to the study tour have a better overview of Japanese cooperatives upon their arrival in Japan and receive a comprehensive package on Japanese cooperatives for their use upon their return to their countries.

Director, ILO Office for Japan

I am glad that the 8th edition of the ILO/JCCU Study Tour for African Cooperative Leaders was successfully completed. We are sure that this year’s programme was especially successful with the participation of special guests from ICA Africa and ILO COOP Unit.

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to the JCCU and Japan Joint Committee of Co-operatives (JJC) for their generous support in carrying out the study tour programme, and look forward to collaborating more closely with the Japanese cooperative movement in the coming years.

I think it was timely that Ms Simel Esim, ILO COOP Unit Head, made a presentation on “Cooperatives and SDGs” at a public seminar co-organized by ILO-Tokyo and JJC at the House of Representatives Conference Hall on the margin of the study tour. I would like to thank the JJC again for its initiative in bringing about this event.

Also, the ILO and ICA Africa joint meetings with key stakeholders especially those with Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have really contributed to the expansion of activities of ILO-Tokyo.

The Tokyo Office is determined to further support the ILO/JCCU study tour and the ILO cooperative related activities at large in Japan. Actually, the ILO and JCCU have just started to explore ways to organize a study tour focusing on francophone countries in Africa. I am happy to inform you that the ILO and JCCU are now jointly checking its feasibility.

I sincerely hope that this well-established study tour will continue to promote the exchange between Japanese and African co-operators through not only the study visits themselves but also constant information sharing even after the participants return to Africa. In this regard, perhaps establishing an online platform of the study tour programme is an idea.

Last, but not least, I am delighted that my colleague, Ms Yumi Nabeshima’s work with cooperatives was acknowledged and featured for ILO’s COOP Champion profile this month.

Ms Simel Esim
Head, ILO Cooperative Unit

"In ILO COOP we are keen to follow up with the participants of the ILO/JCCU African cooperative leaders study tour across the years to help turn their insights into action. One area identified is cooperative to cooperative trade – linking African producer cooperatives with Japanese and other consumer cooperatives.

This is an area of great untapped potential that puts cooperative principle six into action. Shortening the global supply chain to make it fairer and more effective – can’t think of a better demonstration of cooperation among cooperatives in this rapidly changing world of ours."