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The social economy:improving the wellbeing of the many

News from Nicaragua | Friday, 15 February 2019 |

'Our commitment is to continue struggling for the economy of micro, small and medium enterprises and farms while keeping in mind our ultimate goal of combatting poverty and hunger, and ceasing to be one of the poorest countries in Latin America. ‘ Ariel Bucardo, President of the National Council of Co-operatives (CONACOOP)

The social economy in Nicaragua is the largest in Latin America, generating 40% of the country’s wealth and representing 90% of the workforce. It is made up of co-operatives, associations, small and medium businesses and farms, and self-employed workers such as street sellers.

Nicaragua is unique in having a government ministry called the Ministry of the Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economy (MEFCCA) solely responsible for empowering and facilitating the work of the social economy.

Since July, the organisations that make up this sector have formed the Council for the Social Economy (CONADES) which is playing a leading role in economic reactivation.

CONACOOP is a member organisation. There are nearly six thousand co-operatives in agriculture, transport, craft, fishing, housing, and savings and credit. In total these co-operatives represent 300,000 families.

NSC interviewed CONACOOP president Ariel Bucardo about why the social economy as a whole and co-ops in particular are so critical.

‘Our aim is to improve the living standards of people with few resources: micro, small and medium businesses and farmers, encouraging them to join together as people and as communities to find improvements for everyone. Of course they have to be efficient and competitive, but the profits are not made by some and appropriated by others. The profit or surplus belongs to those who produce it and not to a big company which has 50% or the majority of the capital and which takes all the profit.’

Ariel went on to explain the importance of the mobilising the economic power of popular sectors so that they contribute to building a society that does not see ‘health, education and culture as ‘expenses’ and a ‘burden’ but essential to developing the main productive force of society: its people.’

The economy and in particular the social economy suffered a severe blow as a result of the violence between April and July when opposition protesters set up thousands of roadblocks on highways and within towns to try to force the government to step down. Ariel explains his perspective of what happened.

‘It is important to state that we are in favour of democracy, of free speech, of freedom of assembly; however there are groups that tried to paralyse the economy by means of road blocks and that affected us severely, especially in the transport of our exports: hundreds of vans and lorries were halted and used as shields.

In some cases they even stole fuel and other goods; at armed road blocks there were many human rights violations; murders, torture, people that were burned, and some people disappeared and have not been seen again. The road blocks turned into places of torture.

This was not a civic campaign but a violent protest. Without doubt those who tried to execute a coup, those who couldn’t get into government democratically and tried to get there by violent means, have delivered a severe blow to the economy.

Some opposition protesters, including big business, said that they didn’t care about the economy, what they wanted to do was to take over the government. For us the economy is vital because that is our livelihood.

CONACOOP mostly operates in agriculture, one of the least affected sectors of the economy; however tourism has been very badly hit, resulting in huge job losses and a loss of confidence in future demand.’

Ariel explains that agriculture, the foundation of the national economy, is the growing this year. ‘This will guarantee food for the people of Nicaragua but also a growth in exports of beans, cereals, meat, milk and coffee. However, severe restrictions on credit so critical to developing agriculture may have implications for the next cycle.’

Hopes for the future

‘We are the major source of employment, we have the most premises in the country in both urban and rural areas, and we are the foundation of the private economy. We hope that in the coming years we will be able to grow and improve the conditions and return to normality: that is the great challenge.’

In CONPADES we are discussing how to be more efficient and become capable of competing with large firms who effectively act as wholesalers and run less risk. In our case we are the ones who take the risks, both producers and consumers, because if a product is in short supply the price goes up. For us if there is a natural phenomenon or the price is bad we are the ones who lose. Our aim is to try to make sure that everyone wins both consumer and producer, small and medium enterprises.

Our commitment is to continue struggling for the economy of micro, small and medium enterprises while keeping in mind our ultimate goal of combatting poverty and hunger, and ceasing to be one of the poorest countries in Latin America. ‘