18 July 2014

Rwanda: Cooperatives Make Food Security a Reality for Nyagatare Women

Christiana Mukamunana leads us to her back yard in Rurenge, Nyagatare District and shows us around.

Muhawenimana walks through the common garden at the Codar Co-operative in Rugari.

She talks about how proud she is of her goats, chickens and cow, and how much she's been able to accomplish in the past eight years.

A couple of years ago, Mukamunana was living in a small, run-down house that leaked, and had barely enough room to fit her and her seven children.

Her husband had died, leaving her as the family's sole bread winner.

"It was a very difficult situation. We couldn't even afford mattresses," Mukamunana said.

However, everything changed when Mukamunana joined the Kotebaru farm co-operative in 2006. She started learning better farming and storage practices from other farmers. Slowly she started to produce better crops and negotiate better deals for them.

"I have been able to buy a house and pay school fees for my children, and we all have mattresses now," Mukamunana said.

Mukamunana is just one of the many women in Rwanda's rural villages who have improved their lives as a result of joining cooperatives.

About 82 per cent of women and 61 per cent of men in Rwanda work in the agricultural sector, according to the World Food Programme.

Yet many of them cannot support their families through their small scale farms.

That's why the World Food Programme launched the Purchase for Progress (P4P) campaign in Rwanda in 2009 to help farmers strengthen their skills through farm co-operatives.

Through the P4P programme, farmers are trained on use of equipment, post-harvest handling and storing practices.

They are also taught how to negotiate for better prices, something that has helped many farmers like Mukamunana improve their livelihood.

Triphonie Muhawenimana is a member of the Codar Co-operative in Rugari, another farm co-operative supported by the WFP.

She said she used to sell one kilogramme of beans for Rwf100, now she is able to sell them for around Rwf500 thanks to the skills she got through the P4P programme.

"When we started the co-operative we looked disorganised. We didn't know how to use fertilisers or how to store our harvests," Muhawenimana said.

Muhawenimana has managed to double her income in the recent past. She used to make about Rwf400,000 per season, but last season she raised about Rwf800,000.

Like Mukamunana, she used the extra income to build a house for her and her six children, buy medical insurance and pay for their school fees.

Earlier this month the WFP announced that it was going to renew its commitment to the P4P programme because it managed to produce positive results in the past five years.

On top of improving their farming skills, the WFP signs contracts with co-operatives to buy a portion of their produce.

John Paul Sesonga, a reports assistant at WFP, said although the organisation purchases farmers' produce, it also gives them the skills to access other markets.

"We buy their products at market prices but most of the food is bought by other traders," Sesonga said.

For example, Kotebaru co-operative sells to the Rwanda Agricultural Board, Harvest Plus and other local traders on top of what they sell to the WFP.

"Teaching them post-harvest storage practices helps farmers negotiate better prices because they don't have to worry about selling right away," said Patrice Nzeyimana, national programme officer for the P4P.

"They can store their harvest and look around for better prices before selling."

One of the things the WFP wants to focus on during the next few years is to strengthen the abilities of women farmers like Mukamunana and Muhawenimana.

The results of the P4P evaluation showed that women farmers are finding it difficult to take on leadership and managerial positions within the cooperatives.

In 2012 they embarked on a joint project with UN Women, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Fund for Agricultural Development to support rural women farmers in seven countries, including Rwanda.

"When women are empowered, they serve as agents of change and development. They can manage well their families and ensure sustained food security," Sesonga said.

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