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The General Union of Co-operatives (UGC) and the
Co-operative Movement in Mozambique
Excerpted from the UGC website: http://spesmru.intnet.mu/sepac/ugc.htm#guc

The UGC was formed in Mozambique by the agricultural cooperatives in the early 1980’s as a service cooperative and support structure. It aimed at representing them both at the internal and international level, providing services to its members in areas such as training, extension work, procurement, and fund raising. The cooperative movement which flourished under the UGC umbrella had since its inception called for total autonomy as related to the State, the ruling Party and its mass organizations, drawing its main objectives and organizational model from the principles and practices of co-operatives. The movement, made up almost entirely of unemployed women with low levels of schooling and no technical training at all, sought at its initial phase to provide its members with a food supplement and an additional income to the household. After following training courses under UGC, the members improved their technical capacity, level of organization, and their management skills, and the initial situation was reversed. The women became in many cases the mainstays of their families that are, as everywhere in Africa, extended groups.

Through UGC, the movement developed a strong social component providing the members and their families, besides increased income, with employment posts, literacy and professional training, primary health care and formal education – all the way from kindergartens to secondary schools and, beyond, to intermediate level technical training. In the 90’s, with the approval of its associates, UGC started to extend this type of support to disadvantaged groups of people living in underprivileged areas such as the homeless, widows, returnees, and the unemployed. These groups were deprived of any economic activities that would generate employment and income, lacking inevitably the minimum of social provisions such as schools, health posts, drinking water, transport, etc.

Since UGC is an organization whose membership are 95 percent women, naturally gender issues acquired, since its inception, a strong importance aside from the fashions and pressures of the donor community. Women hold all senior posts in the cooperatives and the zone unions; therefore, leadership training is an important program as it allows women to become more and more able to perform the tasks they are assigned to. Due to the same fact, UGC involved itself from the very beginning in social issues such as Education and Health: adult literacy courses were given, kindergartens were created to allow the mothers to participate with greater diligence and security in all tasks, and mother-child health care programs were established. The commitment of UGC towards the cooperative members and other beneficiaries, be them individuals or communities, has never been an isolated act. The support extended and the projects being developed are always on a long-term perspective. For this reason UGC attaches a great importance to the question of sustainability of its activities and projects that are almost never exclusively of economical or of social nature. This has given to the beneficiaries a sense of security not only in the productive activities in which they are involved, but also in what concerns family matters.

The cooperatives were born as production cooperatives. During the most critical periods of the 80’s the cooperatives were the main suppliers of vegetables and meat in Mozambique’s largest city Maputo. Only those who do not remember the times when cabbage was nearly the only basic staple available can ignore the contribution that the cooperatives made in the struggle for survival and dignity.

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Maputo skyline