Yes, women can make it, and IMPABARUTA has shown the way

If you drove – or walked – for about 30 kilometers from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, to the south of the country, up to a neighborhood called Gacurabwenge and asked for African champion farmers, chances are that everyone there will correctly direct you to a women-dominated cooperative – then you’ve already come to IMPABARUTA cooperative of smallholder farmers in Kamonyi district in the county’s Southern Province; the cooperative that has been, in the end of last November, named the 2013 African Farmer Organization of the Year, beating over 60 contestants from all over Africa.

Members of IMPABARUTA’s board in front of their crop of maize.

Members of IMPABARUTA’s board in front of their crop of maize.

In fact, IMPABARUTA is a cooperative of maize and bean seed growers that seeks to increase production through the combined efforts of their members – and they have really made a record.

The cooperative, the winner of the overall award from the African Investment Climate Research (AFRICRES) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), was recognized for its good governance, market access strategy of having farmers pool their produce to sell as a group, and for involving women and youth in its activities: two thirds of Impabaruta — 678 — members are women.

Secrets behind the success

The cooperative chairperson, Manasseh Mpagazehe who is also a role-model farmer, reveals that women and youth are behind their tremendous success. And this is no by chance – it’s obviously a result of the government effort to promote gender equality which led Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture to put in place Gender Equality Strategy in a bid to bring about such successes we are talking about right now.

Currently, each of cooperative members is 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.

Founded in 1998, 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. Most of these cooperatives members have less than one hectare of land (note that an average of farmland per Rwandan household is 0.59 ha). 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.”

This is really a typical smallholder farming that most of Africans need to test if the continent is to rely on agriculture not only to feed its increasing population, but also to grow its economy.

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.

Here is again no surprise since it’s in Rwanda’s policy to promote women and give them space to participate actively to the development of their country – Rwanda is Africa’s top-performing advocate of gender equality and the only country in the world with a female dominated parliament with 64 per cent of the seats in its Chamber of Deputies.

Additionally, under the arrangement with a local NGO, Global Communities-implemented Enabling Market Integration through Rural Group Empowerment (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.

Certainly, if there is one group in Rwanda and beyond that can show by example how worth harnessing women & youth potential in agriculture can be, it is obviously IMPABARUTA.

 

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