Co-operation is as old as human-society; people have always worked together to support shared goals and advance the common good. But the modern co-operative emerged in the 1800s as a way for people to work together to achieve shared goals.
During the 1920’s - 1940’s Cooperatives existed informally in Dominica. These took the form of ‘coup de main’ and ‘sub’.
It was not until 1945 that the efforts of the communities and groups of individuals to work and save became recognized. The Welfare Department in 1949 was given the responsibility to organize and facilitate the development of co-operatives. The level of poverty which existed was evident that co-operative organizations could play a significant role in poverty reduction in Dominica. At that time no Co-operative Department existed. In 1949 attempts were made to establish the first Consumer Co-operative in Soufriere through the initiative of Mr. L.A.J. Simon, a volunteer worker who was trained in cooperative development in Jamaica. There were 117 members in that study group and shares totaled $1168. Soufriere appeared to be a very dynamic community. In 1952, the St. Marks Lime Producers Cooperative was registered. Using the produce of their members, converting the fruit into lime juice and distilled lime oil which was sold on the yearly contract to the firm Rose & Company. The company operated in Dominica and the oil was marketed through the West Indian Lime Oil Sales Company with headquarters in Trinidad.
The first co-operative to be registered in Dominica was the Roseau Co-operative Credit Union in 1952. The Credit Union started in 1950 with a membership consisting of 133 members. And share capital was in the region of $1891.00
Also registering in the 1950’s were;
- Portsmouth Credit Union and St. Alphonsus Credit Union in 1953.
- Co-operative Citrus Growers Association and La Salette Credit Union in 1954.
- Calibishie, Veille Case and Marigot Credit Union in 1955.
- St. Paul’s Credit Union and St. Patrick Credit Union (now Grandbay) in 1956.
- St. Mary’s Credit Union in 1957.
- St. Anne’s Credit Union, St. Francis Credit Union, St. Joseph Credit Union and Dos Dane- Paix Bouche in 1958.
- Salisbury Credit Union, Wesley Credit Union and Castle Bruce Credit Union in 1958.
With the registration of all these Credit Unions, the need arose for an umbrella body which is referred to as a Secondary Body in Co-operative terms was registered in 1958. In the 1970’s a number of agricultural co-operatives were also registered. Today, there are thirty-one (31) co-operative societies registered in Dominica; these include 5 Credit Unions and 11 Fisheries. Presently Dominica has the most dynamic co-operative movement in the OECS.
With a small population of 72,000 which is largely dependent on the Agricultural and Tourism sectors, the materialization of multiple cooperatives continues to have a vital role in contributing to the upliftment of our communities, particularly the rural communities.
The Cooperative Movement has, however, for a long period of time been burdened with serious weaknesses and problems. the three basic weaknesses are:
- A feeble equity base of virtually all cooperatives has jeopardized their viability and development potential.
- The Economic viability of the major activities undertaken.
- The Cooperative leadership and management capacity.
In attempts to address these shortcomings, the Cooperative Division has for some years been involved in a process of implementing strategies for the development, with a focus on the primary society-level Cooperative. The strategy involved:
- Education and Training
- Establishment of Junior Cooperatives and Cooperative Education at Schools
- The Establishment of a Cooperative Revolving Fund
A major change in the work of the Division came about in 2023 when the eleven Credit Unions were moved from supervision by the Division to the Financial Services Unit.
There are presently twenty-six (26) non-financial Cooperatives in the Books of Cooperatives. Cooperatives are mainly concentrated in the Northern and Western districts.