Craftswomen and farmers in Rwanda are turning to co-operatives to help increase empowerment, food security and equality in the country.
In the Musanze District to the north of the country, a support scheme launched by the Faith Victory Association and Action Aid Rwanda has been hailed as a success by smallholder farmers.
The Improved Food Security project (or IFS Muko) has helped formerly vulnerable women farmers to be incorporated into co-operatives.
A notable success is the recent establishment of a maize milling factory. The factory is run by Imboni z’iterambere – an umbrella co-operative that brings together 50 other unions and co-operatives. Co-ops grow produce such as potatoes and maize, which is then taken to the factory for processing.
Faith Victory Association and Action Aid Rwanda put in Rwf35m (£31,000) to help construct the factory. Ruth Nyiraharerimana, who looks after marketing at the factory, told the New Times: “We were different groups that worked separately. Others worked individually and we could hardly get enough to feed our families.
“Then we decided to form a co-operative and work together. We now have two milling machines, a stock and a cooling room. We are gradually getting market for our produce.”
As well as helping financially, women farmers in the region have also spoken out about the benefits of co-ops in family relationships. Hilaria Mujawamungu, president of the co-operative Hugukirwa Muko, said that instead of having to depend on their husbands, more women are “working together with our spouses to develop our households”.
According to Action Aid, the next step is helping farmers to obtain the right certification that will allow them to export their products.
Elsewhere, the co-operative Indego Africa is offering support and education programmes to women artisans across Africa. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 left the country’s economy in crisis and with a 70% female population. Women were left to rebuild the country, but most lacked the necessary business experience.
Indego Africa stated aims are “empowering and uplifting artisan women in Africa through employment opportunities and education”. Groups that have benefited include the Twiyubake Banana Leaf Cooperative – master artisans making hand-woven banana leaf baskets and jewellery.
The Twiyubake co-operative (which means “to rebuild ourselves” in the Kinyarwanda language) employs female genocide survivors as well as the wives of genocide perpetrators. The products are entirely hand made, using banana leaf and other fibres from the local area.
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