February 21, 2022

Rwanda’s quality cassava seeds: A tale of three successes

In countries where cassava is essential for the livelihood of millions of farmers, diseases that decrease crop yields by 20-100% pose a major issue. 

With the initiatives set out through SPARK’s Cassava Agribusiness Seed System (CASS) project in Rwanda and Burundi, promising results have been shown to improve the situation through developing disease-resistant cassava variants, testing business models, management training, and more.

Starting in 2019, the CASS project is a three-year initiative implemented in Rwanda and Burundi, supported by a consortium of five partners including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as a lead partner, SPARK, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) and Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi (ISABU). It aims to solve the problem of quality cassava seeds shortage by selecting a diversity of cassava clones resistant to diseases and making this available and accessible for farmers. Fortunately, new varieties had been developed and approved by Dr. Nduwumuremyi Athanase, a cassava breeder scientist at RAB.

In reaching the project’s goal, three business models were tested: private company-led business model, processors-led business model and community-led cooperative entrepreneurs business model. To ensure these models succeed, training in management, leadership, marketing, and entrepreneurship was provided to the business-owners. The project saw fruitful results with the development of cooperatives and individual growth.


Growth of the Mbakungahaze cooperative

With its name meaning “let me make you prosperous” in the local Kinyarwanda language, Mbakungahaze is a cooperative of cassava farmers specialising in producing cassava roots and quality cassava seed multiplication. It is supported by SPARK and INGABO under the private company-led business model and focuses on capacity building in cooperative management and entrepreneurship.

The Mbakungahaze cooperative members and their cassava seed multiplication plot. © 2022, SPARK
The Mbakungahaze cooperative members and their cassava seed multiplication plot. © 2022, SPARK

Since 2007, the cooperative has achieved remarkable growth: they now own a house for its headquarters, a small truck for transportation of produce, and has recently been granted a modern screen house from the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI). The screen house serves as a site for the basic stages of seed multiplication before the field and certification stages.

Mbakungahaze’s current stability and growth come in part due to the training and coaching supported by SPARK. “Since we started working with SPARK, we became a professional seed producer. The most important lesson we learned from SPARK’s training is to habitually record every money transaction we made, from the screen house to the field. This practice allows us to calculate all the production costs and the seed selling price, thus effectively monitoring our cooperative progress,” said Etienne Nzungize, the chairperson of the Mbakungahaze cooperative.

Initiatives like the Mbakungahaze cooperative encourage and give great hope for the future. By the next major growing season, which begins in September 2022, the Mbakungahaze cooperative has committed to satisfying, in terms of quality cassava seeds, all the needs of cassava farmers in the districts of Ruhango and Kamonyi as well as surrounding regions.


Women empowered while Cassava seeds multiplied 

Cooperative pour le Développement Agricole de Nyakarama (CDAN) is a cooperative of cassava farmers who multiply good cassava seeds to tackle the lack of quality cassava seeds. The seeds are then distributed to the cooperative members and to farmers in the Nyarubande village. 

CDAN experienced difficulties with conducting professional and organised business activities. However, after receiving support from SPARK trainers they were able to plan activities, improve their professional management, as well as increase the commercialisation and the marketing of their products.

As a community-led cooperative, CDAN improves their quality cassava seed production through SPARK's support and training. © 2022, SPARK

CDAN’s rise in professionalism has resulted in being able to settle long-standing debts while also consistently paying dividends to its members each year, a rarity before partnering with SPARK. These dividends have improved the living conditions of their members and even allowed them to invest for the future. 

“Now we sleep on mattresses while in a recent past we just contented ourselves with traditional grasses and mats to prepare our beds. I was also able to enlarge my house, which was very small before. I have a small project raising cows and pigs. Our level of family food has also improved considerably. (…) SPARK has enabled us, as women, to regain our confidence and respect in our families. Like our husbands, we can now fully participate in the socio-economic development of our respective households,” testified Nyiransengiyaremye Bernadette, a CDAN member.


A young farmer’s dream come true

34-year-old Maniriho Vincent from Rwanda is one of the 14 young men and women who graduated in October 2021 from SPARK training in cassava seed entrepreneurship. After taking agricultural studies at university in 2014, he has ambitions of becoming a professional cassava farmer. Despite having limited means and countering the obstacles of diseases and draughts, he managed to maximise profits from cassava farming, own the land he used to rent, and buy cassava and corn mills.

Maniriho Vincent, a young cassava seed entrepreneur, in his cassava field. © 2022, SPARK

The training from SPARK served as an opportunity for him to further his dreams, as the aim of the initiative was for trainees to design a viable seed project likely to make available quality cassava seeds and bring a positive impact to communities. With sustainable economic growth for his community in mind, Vincent explains his project: “My project will focus on cassava seed multiplication of NAROCASS -1 and POAN varieties. It will be implemented on 3 hectares (ha) area during 4 years and will give job opportunities to various people including the youth and women.” 

With the training he received, Vincent has further established himself as a cassava farmer with a goal to influence his community for the better. He has hopes that more young graduates would follow in his footsteps and expand the cassava farming sector, which he believes can be done if they switch their mindset. “Many of them think that agriculture is for peasants who never went to school. They forget that what matters is not studies but what you make out of them,” said Vincent.