September 6, 2016

A Piglet for Every Member: Agri-business Cooperatives in Rural Rwanda

In the shadow of Volcanoes National park in Northern Rwanda, our car pulled up to a small village. We were greeted by two beaming women who ushered us inside their cooperative’s meeting room. This is not your typical cooperative. It was formed specifically for handicapped people in the area, many of whom were previously beggars reliant on the charity of others. Yet, with the incredible success of the organisation, these people are now independent, proud members of one of the most prosperous cooperatives in the district of Musanze.

The stable finances of the cooperative can now afford to offer each new member a piglet to rear. Unsurprisingly, membership numbers have swelled from 40 to over 75 in the last year. This is just one example of what SPARK is achieving here in Rwanda: commercially minded agricultural cooperatives with an entrepreneurial ethos.

Dr Innocent

Working with a total of 30,000 farmers across 99 cooperatives in four different value chains (Irish Potatoes, Maize, Beans and Horticulture), SPARK’s Cooperative Support Programme began in 2015 and enhances the business capabilities of Rwandan farmers. Understanding the National Government’s desire for an increasingly commercialised agricultural sector, our programme is delivered to cooperatives via our 12 agribusiness coaches. We’re big believers in the concept of proximity coaching, and work on the principle that our staff should be located close to the cooperatives they support in order to offer regular guidance and provide reinforcement of the key aspects of the programme.  These individuals are arguably our greatest asset within the programme; all of them are native experts in agribusiness with several holding postgraduate degrees from European Universities and one recently completing his PhD. We call him Dr Innocent.

Coaching Entrepreneurs

Our training programme consists of four modules:

Firstly, the Cooperative Management module focuses on installing good governance by highlighting the importance of regular committee elections and the desirable qualities of a leader.

Secondly, the Financial Management module focuses on internal bookkeeping and building numerical literacy among members. This creates a stronger base for our third module.

The Access to Finance module allows SPARK to act as an intermediary between Microfinance Institutions (MFI’s) and the cooperatives because MFI’s (understandably) favour organisations that understand the concept of loan repayment as they are less likely to default. SPARK has seen a 66% increase in the proportion of cooperatives receiving credit or finance between 2014 and 2015, with 9 organisations receiving funds for the first time in their history, as a result of this module.

Finally, the Access to Markets and Entrepreneurship module is one that we are particularly proud of. SPARK aims to increase the revenue of our partner cooperatives by encouraging the negotiation of formal contracts, facilitating access to larger networks and diversification of activities along the value chains to access new revenue streams whilst mitigating the risks of crop failure.


The Fruits of our Labour

As we enter the final year of the programme, it’s hard to tell what the full results of our work will be. Nevertheless, Oscar Nzayirambaho, one of coaches in the Northern Prince, believes that SPARK’s efforts are already starting to bear fruit.

“When CSP began, many of our cooperatives were commercially less developed than those outside of the programme. However, if you visit the cooperatives now you will see that they are so entrepreneurial, so business orientated! This is the impact of our work.”

Anecdotal evidence isn’t the only positive indicator we have so far. The vast majority of cooperatives recorded increased revenue over the last 12 months, some by as much as 11,900% – a staggering figure! It shows us that the success of the cooperative enabling disabled people to become independent pig farmers is no anomaly; our dream of entrepreneurial farming communities is becoming a reality.

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