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The Origins of Co-operatives in Barbados  

1.        A brief history

The Co-operatives Department is one of the departments of the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce and its mandate is to administer the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A; the Friendly Societies Act, Cap.379; the Building Societies Act, Cap.377; and the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, Cap.380.  There are no societies registered under the last two (2) Acts mentioned.

The Co-operative Societies Act was first passed in response to the call for the establishment of co-operatives. The first co-operative, Shamrock Co-operative Credit Union Limited, pre-dated the passing of the Act and it still continues as a going concern over sixty years later.

The Co-operative idea was first sown in Barbados in the early 20th Century when Horace Plunkett visited the West Indies in 1911 and undertook the special task of introducing the idea. Mr. Plunkett was the pioneer of agricultural co-operatives in Ireland and had significant influence on the rise of the agricultural co-operative movement throughout Great Britain and the Commonwealth.  However, no major decisions or activities were undertaken in Barbados until the late 1940’s.

As a pre-condition to the promotion of the Co-operative movement, a Co-operatives Officer was appointed in 1944 to the Department of Science and Agriculture. This appointment was made possible by a grant given from the Development of Welfare Funds.

Prior to 1944, there was an almost complete absence of co-operation, but the peasant agricultural instructors, together with the Co-operative Officer sought to change that attitude through the introduction of group activity as a means of demonstrating the value of co-operation. Areas of concentration for such activities were in the supply of slug poison, fertilizers and feeding stuff.

The first real co-operative activity began around 1947 when some members from the Roman Catholic Church formed a Co-operative Savings Society.

In November 1949, the Co-operative Societies Act was passed by the legislature and in 1950,  the Co-operative Societies Rules made under the Act were enacted.

In 1951, the Director of Agriculture was appointed as temporary Registrar of Co-operatives.

Throughout this period, people still continued their group activities mentioned earlier, but from the beginning of 1952, interest in the formation of Co-operative Societies began to develop primarily for marketing peasants’ canes. This interest arose directly as a result of a Domestic Sugar Agreement, which provided for an additional price above the basic price to be paid to co-operatives supplying canes in excess of 500 tons to any factory.

On May 09, 1952, the first society to be registered under the Act was St. Barnabas Co-operative Marketing Society Limited. At that time the Ministry of Agriculture and Science had responsibility for co-operatives and the Director of Agriculture was also the Registrar of Co-operative Societies.

Other areas of interest were in the formation of Savings Societies and to a lesser extent, Consumer Co-operatives. During this period the promotion of the movement was entrusted to a temporary Registrar and one Co-operatives Officer.

In respect of Consumer Co-operatives, efforts to form them from the very beginning met with failure. Analysis indicated that these groups were handicapped because of their inexperience in business management and the lack of support from members.

In 1950, it was the co-operative savings societies that became dominant, because they filled a great need among the people at that time. Many were eventually converted into credit unions.

Needless to say, since the idea of Co-operatives was new to the country, it was therefore necessary for Government to set up the kind of framework, which would encourage people and help to develop the movement. In 1961, a separate Co-operatives Division with a technical staff comprising one (1) Registrar and three (3) Co-operatives Officers was set up under the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and its functions were expanded by the transfer of responsibility from the Supreme Court for friendly societies; building societies; and industrial and provident societies.  The Registrar was responsible for the general duty of organizing, carrying out and encouraging measures for the development of co-operatives.

In 1966, the Division was transferred to the Ministry of Trade.

In 1971, it was transferred again to the Ministry of Agriculture where it remained there until 1985.

In 1985, the Division was placed again under the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Commerce.

In 1989, the Department was restructured in preparation for the new demands that were anticipated under the new Co-operative Societies Act that would soon become a reality.

In August 1990, the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A was passed, but was not proclaimed until March 15, 1993. In the meantime, the staff had been increased from seven (7) to fourteen (14), inclusive of technical and support persons.

In December 2007, the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A was amended.

In January 2008, the Co-operative Societies Regulations were replaced.

More recently, in April 2011, the vibrant credit union sector was transferred from being regulated by the Department to that of the Financial Services Commission. The Co-op Department therefore currently regulates the non – financial co-ops.

2.        Mission Statement

  • To assist in building a strong vibrant co-operative sector by way of effective regulation, promotion and encouraging meaningful development which assists in growing a prosperous and equitable economy within the Micro, Small and Medium size sector in Barbados.

3.        Vision Statement

The Department will be the catalyst for a strong co-operative sector in Barbados through effective regulation, supervision and promotion.

4.        Core Values

Accessibility:- to be available to our stakeholders.

     (2) Dependability:- to provide reliable and accurate information.

     (3) Integrity:- to treat all impartially.

     (4) Efficiency:- to deliver our services using the least resources.

     (5) Creativity:- to find innovative solutions to challenges.

5.        Role of the Department

Section 183 of the Co-operative Societies Act, Cap.378A, summarizes the role of the Registrar, viz:

“……organizing, carrying out and encouraging measures for the development of co-operative societies……”

6.       Functions

In order to fulfill its mission, the Department performs many functions which include:

  • Registration of societies;
  • Inspection of the operations of societies;
  • Conducting seminars and participating in educational activities;
  • Advising individuals and groups;
  • Attending the meetings of societies;
  • Resolving disputes; and
  • Conducting arbitration hearings.

In addition, by the middle of 2012 and up to the present the Department performs other functions, namely:

  • Sensitizing the public about co-operatives;
  • Marketing the co-operative concept; and
  • Performing developmental work on existing co-operatives.

Co-operatives have the potential to generate employment, be exporters of produce and be earners of foreign exchange, but two of the major challenges they face are undercapitalization and the need for greater management skills. These are not new, but present particular challenges.

The Co-operatives Department recognizes that over the years many of the recommendations to address these challenges made to co-operatives have gone unheeded due to a lack of resources to implement them. The Department therefore strives to work more closely with these societies in order to help them improve their operations as it desires that all societies become viable, vibrant, efficient and self-sustainable.

7.        Registered Societies

Agricultural  Co-operatives (co-ops)

1. Addis Alem Co-operative Society Ltd;

2. Barbados Pig Farmers’ Co-operative Society Limited;

3. St. George Farmers’ Marketing Co-operative Society Limited;

4. South Eastern Farmers’ Co-operative Society Limited;

5. Farm Connect Co-operative Society Limited.

6.  The People’s Agricultural and Business Co-operative Society Limited

7.  Barbados Agricultural Trading and Investment Co-operative Society Limited

Taxi Co-ops

1. Barbados Transport Co-operative Society Limited;

2. Bridgetown Port Taxi Co-operative Society Limited;

3. Hiltop Taxi Co-operative Society Limited;

4. Sunset Crest Transport Co-operative Society Limited;

5. Barbados Association Of Coach Owners Co-operative Society Limited;

6. United Transporters Co-operative Society Limited.

7.  The PSV Co-operative Society Limited

Consumer Co-ops

1. Reddy Kilowatt Co-operative Society Limited.

Multi Purpose Co-ops

1. Women Entrepreneurs Co-operative Society Limited;

2. Emerging Brands Barbados Co-operative Society Limited;

3. The Barbados Contractors & Artisans Co-operative Society Limited.

Investment Co-ops

1. Co-operative Society Investment Fund Limited.

Junior Co-ops

1. The Christ Church Girl’s Co-operative Savings Society Limited;

2. Arthur Smith Primary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited;

3. St. Silas Primary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited;

4. Westbury Primary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited;

5. St. Michaels Secondary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited;

6. A. DaCosta Edwards Primary School Co-operative Thrift Society Limited;

7. Sharon Primary Co-operative Thrift Society Limited;

Secondary Co-ops

1. Barbados Co-operative and Credit Union League Limited;

2. Barbados Co-operative Business Association Limited.

Renewable Energy Co-ops

1. The Barbados Sustainable Energy Co-operative Society Limited