This pilot project is designed primarily to identify significant endangered co-operative materials in Tanzania and investigate the potential for relocating them to a safer environment in order to prevent their loss and deterioration and to preserve the heritage.
Co-operatives have played a central role in all East African countries in both pre- and post-colonial times, yet their history and signficance has been largely overlooked by researchers. The absence of any systematic preservation of archival materials relating to co-operatives has undoubtedly played a major role in this.
Co-operatives today are undergoing a revival across the region and are playing a great role again in economic and social life. Currently there are gaps in knowledge, as the subject is data-deficient and there is little scientific research, as accessibility to materials is patchy. However there is a growing interest in co-operatives and recognition of the need for more research. Moshi University College of Co-operative and Business Studies (MUCCoBS), for example, now has over 2,500 students and is seeking full university status. Other Co-operative Colleges exist in neighbouring countries and also have growing numbers of students and staff.
Significant material has already been lost through lack of care, or knowledge of the importance in documenting a crucial stage in the history of the region’s co-operative development. The pilot project will identify records of early co-operatives in Tanzania and those related to commodities such as tea, cotton, groundnuts, as well as credit unions. It will also undertake fieldwork to identify further materials within the field and government departments and sample documents will be digitised.
This pilot project will mark a significant milestone in the collaboration between the UK and East Africa in identifying the role of the co-operative sector in East African development.
A skills audit was carried out with the management team at MUCCoBS, which helped to identify the content and approaches for the proposed stakeholder workshop and seminar. It was also useful for underpinning future training and support needs.
All field visits to co-operative organisations in the region were carried out jointly by UK College and MUCCoBS staff. In each meeting, information on the project was presented including the importance of preserving materials relating to co operative history. The representatives from all the unions visited in the field were very supportive of the project and would be willing partners in any future major digitisation project.
MUCCoBS also organised a Co-operative History Day at the College, the first of its kind. It was very successful, with 90 Farmers belonging to 34 primary coffee-marketing co-operatives from the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania attending the event, indicating widespread interest and support for the programme.
The archives were identified all over the country and a survey was carried out in each location of the records and notes were made on their storage environment, format, and preservation needs.
Most unions kept records for recent and current activity in the offices. However, older records tended to be placed in unsuitable storage rooms in no obvious order. No system was apparent for selecting what records needed to be kept when they were no longer used in the daily running of the union. The storage rooms were often dusty, mouldy, had high temperature and relative humidity readings, and there was evidence of insects and other pests including rats and in one union, snakes. Generally the records were not protected; some were in box files, but often they were in coffee jute bags or loose.
The field visits revealed the existence of a large amount of previously unidentified sources of materials. In addition, there were many more co-operative unions, regional offices and hundreds of primary societies that remained outside the scope of this pilot study.
Further opportunities to access archival material have also been identified in the neighbouring countries of Kenya and Uganda, both with rich co-operative histories where the UKCC has already established partnerships.
MUCCoBS is planning to build an archive repository - this project has helped to identify the skills and knowledge gap in Tanzania. A seminar and a training workshop was held at MUCCOBS. This presented the survey results and provided guidelines to assist in the development of a new co-operative repository.