Outstanding Rwandan Cooperative Wins Recognition for Remarkable Success

Outstanding Rwandan Cooperative Wins Recognition for Remarkable Success

By Teresa Casale, Congressional Relations Officer

Rwanda cooperative
President of IMPABARUTA, accompanied by members of his board, holds their award for professional Management from the government of Rwanda.

In 1998 Rwanda, the country was recovering from a brutal civil war that had badly damaged the economy. All sectors had suffered losses of people and resources, including the country’s rural farmers. Farmers also faced the additional challenge of making the most efficient use of land. As Africa’s most densely populated country, land is a precious resource in Rwanda, particularly arable land. In 1998, the group that was to become known as IMPABARUTA came together to leverage the combined efforts of many farmers in order to maximize land use and income generation. The group grew and specialized over time, and today, through support from Global Communities, is one of the most successful agriculture cooperatives in the country.

Global Communities is implementing the Enabling Market Integration through Rural Group Empowerment (EMIRGE) project through the support of USAID. EMIRGE aims to improve the incomes of small-scale farmers by enabling agricultural groups to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. In Rwanda, Global Communities is working with cooperatives comprised largely of poor farmers in remote rural areas. IMPABARUTA is a cooperative of maize seed growers that seeks to increase production through the combined efforts of their members. Since 2010, Global Communitiesl has worked with IMPABARUTA to improve their business management skills, reduce their input costs, and achieve maximum results.

Today, the cooperative has over 600 members, each of whom are responsible for growing maize on their own individual plots of land. They then dry the husks in traditional drying facilities and transport the product to the cooperative where it is categorized by quality, husked, bagged and stored. The highest quality seed is then sold to the government, with whom the group has a permanent contract. The rest of the seed is sold back to the growers at a very reduced rate. The cooperative also leases a shared plot of land where maize is grown, and members have the option of working the land for a wage. IMPABARUTA also functions as a microfinance institution, with loans available to its members to increase their production and generate income. The cooperative also has a full-time staff including an agronomist and an accountant.
During its recent history, one of the biggest challenges faced by IMPABARUTA has been making sure that input costs—such as fertilizer—are kept low in order to maximize profit. Since 2010, the group has been receiving technical assistance through Global Communities on advanced farming techniques such as organic methods of composting, fertilization, and pest control. These interventions have led to cost savings for the cooperative, which have then been invested into equipment that increases the speed of production, such as electronic huskers for the dried maize. In the past, this process was done by a hand-cranked machine. Their production has increased so much that the biggest challenge they now face is where to store the unanticipated bounty of seed.

Rwanda cooperative
Members of IMPABARUTA’s board in front of their crop of maize.
However, in the past two years since IMPABARUTA has been working with Global Communities, there have been plenty of challenges to overcome. Erosion of soil has been a problem, as has overly wet seed becoming infested with insects. Both of these issues have been caused by seasons of bad weather. Even so, the group has been able to take the 11 hectares of land and 40 tons of seed they had in 2010, and turn it into 60 hectares of land and 138 tons of seed in 2012. Due to their overwhelming growth and success, they have been recognized by the government of Rwanda as being an exemplary cooperative, and won an award for their “Professional Management”.

Much of the group’s success has had to do with its popularity among members and membership increasing due to word of mouth. Essentially, their success has led to more success. Members of the group enjoy increased prosperity, economic stability, and elevated social status in their communities. They have access to loans that can help them increase their capital, and always have the option of working the shared plot of land for a daily wage, again increasing their income. They can also save costs through being members by buying seed from the cooperative at a lower than market costs, as well as buying fertilizer in bulk. Women members in particular benefit from membership, as they gain increased autonomy due to having equal access to finance and an equal voice in the cooperative’s general assembly of members. In fact, it is an official policy of the group that at least 30 percent of the leadership of IMPABARUTA be female. They have surpassed that requirement with the actual percentage of 43.
Additionally, under the arrangement with Global Communities and the EMIRGE program, IMPABARUTA is responsible for training other cooperatives on farming techniques and business management. According to members, passing on their knowledge and seeing it contribute to the success and increased prosperity of others is something they are most proud of.
 
For the future, they are most looking forward to receiving more training from Global Communities, particularly on irrigation practices, and tackling the challenge of finding more storage for their ever increasing production of maize seed. To guarantee they pass on their knowledge to as many people as possible, they also have the goal of reaching out to the next generation. Attracting youth to both farming and cooperatives is often a challenge. However, if there is one group in Rwanda that can show by example how profitable and life-changing being a member of a cooperative can be, it is IMPABARUTA.