Although cooperative societies do not boast remarkable success in many parts of the world, there are lessons for them to learn from India’s western province of Maharashtra.

The province that also houses the country’s commercial capital Mumbai has more than 300,000 registered cooperative societies, controlling deposits of over 2,000 billion rupees ($27 billion).

Apart from helping the economy, they also play a crucial role to choose who rules the state.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Raju Shetty, founder of Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathan, a farmer’s union, said the cooperatives have brought big changes in the lives of the people.

“Cooperative is powerful in Maharashtra. The best sugar mills work in the cooperative sector only. The best dairy industries are also cooperative. There is cooperation in the blood of people of Maharashtra,” he said.

Explaining the working of cooperatives, he said 25-50 small farmers come together to form a cooperative society and then market various products like tomato, onion, etc. together. In the province, banks, dairy, sugar, and spinning mills, all work as cooperative societies.

“We have many rivers flowing throughout the year. But farmers can’t use river water to irrigate their fields since it could be 8-10 kilometers away from their fields. Some 400-500 farmers come together under a cooperative society and contribute to lay the pipeline to bring water to their fields,” said Shetty.

He said the in similar fashion milk producing farmers come together collet about 2,000 liters of milk to supply to the dairy directly to sell it in the cities. This has helped cooperatives to spread networks across the state and also wield political influence.

Sanjeev Babar, managing director of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation, believes cooperatives play a pivotal role in the politics of the state.
“There are 288 members of the provincial assembly and 150 of them come from the cooperative sector. It shows how important the role cooperatives play in Maharashtra politics,” he told Anadolu Agency.

According to an estimate, there are some 35,000 primary agricultural credit societies (PACS) more than 300,000 housing societies, and more than 300 cooperative banks working in the state.

“The cooperative sector has completely changed the state. Notably, it started from sugar mills and gradually it reached other sectors also,” said Babar.

Sugar cooperatives most powerful

The sugar factors are known as the most powerful in the cooperative sector. There are 178 registered sugar mills in the state. He said that out of them 30-40 factories are competing with the best sugar factories in the world.

“These factories have resulted in the all-around development. Schools, engineering, and medical colleges have come up because of them. These places were earlier very backward but now everything is available there,” said Babar.

He said the growth in the cooperative sector has helped boosting employment opportunities in the rural areas, which has prevented the migration of people from rural to urban areas.

Despite the remarkable success story, Babar said it is difficult to predict the future as members of the provincial assembly were now increasingly coming from urban areas. But still, the successful Maharashtra model of cooperatives holds an example for the rest of the world.

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