Paulino Imede has witnessed the coming, going and coming again of the cooperative movement in Mozambique, one of the world’’s poorest countries. Niassa province, tucked in the north east of the slender slice of African nation which rests on the Indian Ocean in south-eastern Africa, is the former Portugese colony’’s poorest province.

Imede was one of the 75 farmers in Niassa province, at first somewhat skeptically, to begin to build an agricultural cooperative following Mozambique’s long-fought-for independence in 1975.

Mozambique found independence with the Marxist-based Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO). Farmers, previously working under a feudal, landlord system, were encouraged by the one-party state system to form cooperatives. The agricultural cooperative in Lussanhando was one of five set up at the time.

For the next seventeen years civil war raged in Mozambique as FRELIMO, backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, fought the RENAMO faction, backed by white minority governments in South Africa and then-named Rhodesia. At first cooperatives prospered. In 1983 the Lussanhando cooperative was held up as a big success winning accolades from its president, Samora Machel. The cooperative had as symbols of its success and prosperity not only one bicycle, but a Mercedes-Benz truck and a farm tractor.

Within two years the Lussanhando cooperative was the only one left operating as the intensifying guerrilla fighting halted farming. Another year later and Lussanhando had also stopped. It wasn’’t until the late 1980s, nearing the end of the civil war, that the UGC (Farmers General Uniõn), supported by new government, began to motivate farmers to work as associations in order to have their own autonomy.

And Imede, with his primary school education, his two farms of corn, butter beans, peppers and potatoes and his eight children, has been at the fore ever since.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: