SPARK IGNITE: Dutch Officials Speak to SPARK Supported Potato Farmers
by Pascal Murasira
On February 26th 2014, I was pleased to accompany a team from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Embassy on an official visit to one of the cooperatives selected by SPARK to be part of the cooperatives support programme (CSP).
The team from the Ministry was comprised of The Director-General for International Cooperation (plv DGIS), Mr Christiaan Rebergen and Mr Jan van Raamsdonk from Africa Department. They were acompanied by the Embassy team comprised Mr Pieter Dorst, the Head of cooperation, Mrs Esther Van Damme, the first secretary in charge of Food Security, Mrs Teddie Muffels, the agriculture councillor, Mr Gaspard Ndagijimana and Francois Umuwukiza also both staff of the Embassy. Since Mr Rebergen is in charge of bilateral cooperation, he wanted to get first-hand experience of what food security programme financed the Netherlands Government is trying to achieve. Also he wanted to hear from benefiting farmers, what are their challenges and opportunities as well as how the Cooperative Support Programme will dress these issues.
The CSP in Rwanda is a new three-year programme, started in mid 2013, targeting 100 coops within the maize bean, bean, potato and horticulture value chains. A pilot group of 40 cooperatives have been competitively selected through a selection process involving 148 cooperatives that had initially applied to be part of the programme. The visitors to the cooperative had time to interact with 18 of the 76 cooperative members. After a short introduction of cooperative members by the CSP Programme Officer, the chairman of the cooperative gave a brief background of the cooperative, what their challenges and opportunities are, as well as their expectations vis-à-vis the CSP. COJYIMU (Coperative Jyambere Muhinzi) which means cooperative for promoting farmers’ welfare was created back in 2009. Located in Nyabihu District, Northwestern Rwanda, the cooperative was created by Irish potato growers, which is the most common crop in this area thanks to its fertile volcanic soils.
The 76 members of COJYIMU (75 more in the process of joining the cooperative) grow potatoes for two seasons per year, rotating them with different vegetables mainly carrots and cabbages. COJYIMU was set up two produce collection centers for a collective marketing of members’ potatoes. At the collection centers, potatoes are sorted and graded. The best quality is sold to selected supermarkets and hotels in urban centers of Kigali, the capital and Musanze, a local town. The remaining potatoes are sold to traders from Burundi, DR Congo and other domestic traders.
The cooperative is facing two major challenges: high costs of inputs such as clean seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides; as well as row prices for their potatoes due to overproduction and lack of any proper storage or processing. To tackle these issues, the CSP will assist COJYIMU by providing its members with the required marketing and financial management skills, adding value to their potatoes through crisps processing, as well as accessing the necessary finances to collectively purchase the right inputs.
As a SPARK programme officer for the CSP, I was very pleased to bring our donor to meet the future beneficiaries of this project and help them to gain a mutual understanding of each others’ perspectives.
* Pascal Murasira is a Programme Officer for SPARK Rwanda
SPARK IGNITE is SPARK’s blog of stories, updates and opinions by SPARK staff, on relevant topics in the news, stories from the fields, and what inspire us to do what we do. We welcome external contributions; to contribute please contact media[at]spark-online.org.