Spotlight- Kerala

Coops revving up social economy

One of the vegetable gardens promoted by the Palliyakkal Service Cooperative Bank, near Ezhikkara, in North Paravur.

One of the vegetable gardens promoted by the Palliyakkal Service Cooperative Bank, near Ezhikkara, in North Paravur. | Photo Credit: VIBHU H

Ezhikkara, a quaint little panchayat in Paravur taluk north of Ernakulam, is a hive of activity with about 800 farmers engaged in activities ranging from banana cultivation to fish-farming any given day.

Thanks to the financial support of the Palliyakkal Service Cooperative Bank, set up in 1942, which has grown into a shelter for marginal fish, vegetable, poultry and dairy farmers who depend on day-to-day income for their livelihood.

Its effort to organise farmers in the area began at the turn of the millennium. With financial and technical support from the cooperative, farmers have expanded their homestead farming to about 200 ha of paddy (pokkali) fields as well as 40 acres of vegetable cultivating.

The bank not only provides them basic support for initial investment but also organises training programmes to adopt scientific methods to increase production, counter pest attacks, and increase marketing opportunities. 

The last financial year saw the farmers producing around 100 tonnes of fruits and vegetables, says M.P. Vijayan, who recently retired as secretary of the cooperative after 38 years. 

The bank also helped the farmers open retail outlets to sell vegetables. There is also an online delivery order platform for the Ezhikkara area, which is widely used by the people, he adds.

Palliyakkal symbolises the gamut of activities undertaken by cooperatives that touch the everyday life of society. From door delivery of fresh fish to laying of tetrapods to protect the coast from erosion, lending money to small farmers, and developing software are some of the areas in which the cooperatives are active in the State.

The cooperative movement has grown into a large institutional base that has helped influence and transform most areas of economic and social life in both rural and urban areas.

The recently-concluded Cooperative Expo-2022 in Kochi highlighted the vast array of products from societies that have brought enterprising people, including women, in large numbers under its umbrella to create jobs. Value-added agricultural products, food processing, agriculture, fish farming, health care, construction, and engineering consultancy are some of the areas where the cooperative movement has planted its roots.

 The recently-concluded Cooperative Expo-2022 in Kochi highlighted the vast array of products from societies that have brought enterprising people, including women, in large numbers under its umbrella to create jobs.

The recently-concluded Cooperative Expo-2022 in Kochi highlighted the vast array of products from societies that have brought enterprising people, including women, in large numbers under its umbrella to create jobs. | Photo Credit: Vibhu. H

C.P. John, former member of the State Planning Board and Communist Marxist Party leader, who has a long association with cooperatives, says one of the ways the government has helped the cooperatives flourish is the way it has instilled confidence in the public about the operations of the cooperatives. It has not always been a friendly relationship between cooperatives and the government. However, the way the government controls the cooperatives has given a sense of order in which the public can trust, he says.

He says the cooperatives, especially primary cooperatives, are flourishing not because of government support but because of the people’s trust in them. The cooperative sector, especially banks, offer personalised services to ordinary people, who might find it difficult to obtain a loan from a nationalised bank or a private bank.

Some of the most successful cooperative enterprises in the State include the fisheries apex cooperative Matsyafed and Milma, which has helped bring together dairy farmers after the Amul model to increase milk production in the State.

Matsyafed, Kerala State Cooperative Federation for Fisheries Development, was established in 1984 with a view to helping the fishing community to overcome poverty and develop socially as well as to augment fish production. There are more than 650 fisheries primary cooperatives in the marine, inland ,and women’s fisheries sectors.

A Matsyafed  fish mart at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram.

A Matsyafed fish mart at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram.

One of the key initiatives of the fisheries cooperative has been to help traditional fishers overcome exploitation by middlemen through better value realisation at auctions held at fish-landing centres and harbours.

Another successful venture of the cooperative has been integrated fisheries development with assistance from the National Cooperative Development Corporation. Over the years, 21 integrated fisheries development projects have been implemented at an outlay of over ₹554 crore.

D. Narayana, former director of the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation, says health cooperatives definitely need government support. In a recent article on health cooperatives as forward-looking models, he says social economy organisations had proved their resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Cooperatives form an important constituent of the social economy” and have proved to be more resilient in the face of failure.

The ways in which cooperatives have adapted themselves to changing times is highlighted by the way they have diversified to augment income and employment generation. Established in 1969, the Kerala Dinesh Beedi Workers’ Central Cooperative Society is among the most prominent cooperative organisations in the State.

Originally established to help and support beedi workers, the society has, among other activities, now diversified into food processing and employs around 6,000 people. From curry powder, coconut burfi, readymade dresses to an IT park and software development wing, the Kannur-based cooperative is among the leaders in the group of cooperatives in the State.

One of the smaller cooperatives, which highlight the potential for future growth, is the Vattiyurkavu Youth Brigade Entrepreneurs Cooperative Society. It was one of the participants in the Cooperative Expo and is a coming together of young people for fresh fish supply under the brand “Nalla Meen”. Though centred at Vattiyurkavu, the enterprise is set to spread its wings by supplying fresh and quality fish to consumers.

Fresh fish supply is just one of the seven enterprises being undertaken by the group. The group also plans to launch an online application for fish sales.

Similar in ambition is the upcoming Travancore Soil and Fibre Industries Cooperative, which is engaged in production of organic fertilizer using coconut pith. .

The State government has begun distribution of Coop Kerala certificates for facilitating the introduction of a common brand for all products from the cooperative sector under one umbrella.

The aim of the initiative is to increase product visibility and provide assurance on their quality. The department plans to open outlets in all major towns for products from cooperatives and establish a chain of quality-testing laboratories to ensure steady demand in the market.

One of the coconut oil filling units at the Varapetty Service Cooperative Bank’s oil mill near Muvattupuzha.

One of the coconut oil filling units at the Varapetty Service Cooperative Bank’s oil mill near Muvattupuzha. | Photo Credit: VIBHU H


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2022 9:26:35 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/coops-revving-up-social-economy/article65391186.ece