Assignment for Oxfam Novib
The absence of a good market for the corn farmers in Luvungo forced them to sell their maize to buyers in Rwanda. Once it was processed into flour, they would buy it back for a higher price. Not surprisingly, the farmers were hardly making a profit. They lacked the skills, knowledge and cooperation to professionalize their farming activities. The Union Paysanne pour le Développement Intégral (UPDI), a local partner organization of Oxfam Novib, was determined to bring change in the life of these farmers. They helped them to professionalize and to unite them into cooperatives.
"We wanted the farmers to work with a vision. To work together and unite in cooperatives where they complement and support each other," Odi Jean Dedieu of UPDI explains. "We think it is important that farmers not only work their land to provide for their own livelihood, but that they start seeing it as a business through which they can actually make a profit. We teach them modern farming techniques and how to write a business plan, which is a requirement to apply for a loan.” With the help of UPDI, the farmers also started a maize-processing factory. They do not sell their maize to the Rwandans anymore. They find their own market and gain a higher profit.
Furthermore, UPDI taught the farmers how a cooperative functions, about the democratic mechanisms. Members pay a social contribution and when they experience difficulties they can apply for a loan. Many farmers were interested but hesitated when they heard farming a piece of land of at least 1 hectare was required to be profitable. It would mean buying or renting an extra plot of land and moreover, hiring workers to maintain their land and for harvesting. A risk they were not used taking.
The formation of a cooperative is not an easy process Mao Musabiki, a member of the Ushiriki Cooperative, explains. "At the moment our cooperative has 30 members but we started several years ago with 70 members. A lot of them quit because they expected help without having to do anything in return. But the reality is that it requires a lot of hard work." Odi Jean adds: "We can train them, but if they show a passive attitude there is nothing more we can do. It is their responsibility. And many of those who quit now regret it and want to come back.”
Katimbo Kalisa, president of the Tabike Hagume cooperative that consists mainly of women, talks about the impact it had on her life. "My life has changed for the better. My profit increased which allowed me to build a new solid brick house. And I make enough money to pay for my children’s’ education!" Katimbo explains how also her social status changed. Before, her family members looked down on her and did not invite her when family decisions were to be made. But now they cannot ignore her anymore. "Now that I am able to contribute, my opinion counts. A decision cannot be made without involving me. I will not accept it. And that is not only the case for me, but also for many other women who benefitted from the cooperative. They enjoy more respect from their husbands and family!"
This change in gender relations also arises from the gender training UPDI organized. Kalisa tells that the prevailing view used to be that women belonged in the kitchen. Men started to understand that women are capable of more than doing the household and raising children. “It has definitely changed now!" she says.