Two decades from the genocide, Rwanda aims to co-operate for a better future

Twenty years on from 100 days of genocide in Rwanda, co-operatives have been seen as a means to build a sustainable future for its people. The genocide had...

Twenty years on from 100 days of genocide in Rwanda, co-operatives have been seen as a means to build a sustainable future for its people.

The genocide had a devastating economic and social impact on the country, which remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. To achieve sustainable development, the Rwandan government to looking to grow the co-operative sector.

With 9.7m people, 87% of whom live in rural areas, agriculture is the backbone of Rwanda’s economy. Co-operatives can help small-scale farmers to cope with challenges like price volatility and lack of training and gain access to markets.

During a recent meeting with officials form Lesotho, Rwandan Minister of Trade and Industry, François Kanimba highlighted the important contribution of co-operatives to achieving the government’s vision for 2020.

Vision 2020, launched in 2000 by Rwandan president Paul Kagame, is a development programme designed to help the country achieve middle-income status by 2020 and to accelerate annual GDP growth to 10% by 2018.

The programme includes a list of goals the government aims to achieve by then, such as good governance, an efficient state, skilled human capital, a vibrant private sector and modern agriculture.

“The co-operative movement in Rwanda contributes now to the economic wellbeing of more than two million members, most of them living in rural areas,” says Mr Kanimba.

To increase farmer smallholder productivity, particularly in rural areas, the government sought to strengthen farmer co-operatives, which according to a 2013 country programme document by UNICEF, significantly increased production of staple food and export crops. With support from the United Nations, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) is helping farmers develop new skills and reduce post-harvest losses. This resulted in higher incomes for 25,000 farm families.

While visiting the Gisagara district in March, the permanent secretary of MINAGRI, Tony Nsanganira, highlighted the importance of agriculture in Rwanda’s economy.

“Agriculture is a key sector in our country’s economy,” he said. “It’s the biggest employed and it remains among the main sources of foreign exchange of the country.”

He was joined by the governor of the Southern Province, Alphonse Munyentwari, who along with local farmers, celebrated the launch of the planting season. The governor encourages farmers to organise themselves in co-operatives. He says: “It will be easy to provide you with any assistance once you are grouped into co-operatives.”

Banking is another sector where co-operatives make a difference to the lives of Rwandan farmers. Through saving and credit co-operatives (SACCOs) they gain access to financial services. Figures released last year by the National Bank of Rwanda confirmed that the country’s micro-finance sector, which includes SACCOs, had outpaced that of the banking sector in the first six months on 2013.

The governor of Northern Province, Aime Bosenibamwe, has also urged local authorities to raise awareness on the importance of saving accounts as a means of promoting development. He said he hoped that this year every resident in his province would have opened a bank account with a SACCO or micro-finance enterprises.

Already over 5,000 co-operatives are contributing to the wellbeing of more than two million people in Rwanda, not only in agriculture, but also in other sectors such as transport or commodity transformation, with farmers buying trucks and milling machines.

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