Pelagie Mbabazi talked to Daphrose Nyirandikubwimana, the Vice-Chairperson of the Cooperative de Valorization des Fruits de Gakenke (COVAFGA). Below are excerpts from the interview
Briefly tell us about yourself?
I was born in 1959 in Gakenke District. I am the second born in a family of four girls and four boys from the family of the late Stanislas Iyamuremye and Budeciana Nyiramagorwa
I attended primary school in Gakenke and my secondary school in Rwaza and Muramba where I completed in 1977. I later I went in Bukavu in the then- Zaire where I attained a Bachelors Degree in Technical Science of Entrepreneur Development and Project Management.
When I completed my studies I started teaching as a fulltime job and I would do some things on the side as well. I was working in the Ministry of Education for a long period of time but I later switched to the Ministry of Agriculture. I stayed there for a few years and left it to back to teaching. I left my teaching post to enter the world of private business.
What is your childhood dream and are living it?
I never had any dream in particular. This was because I thought that everything you did, or planned to do, was reality not a dream. As long as you put food on the table, everything was okay. So I had no dreams really. However, when I finished high school, I realized that everyone was entering business. So, I guess I can say that I realized by high school dream
What does COVAFGA aim to do?
This cooperative was formed by people who could no longer stomach the low prices that farmers received for their produce. We aim to value and recognise farmer’s work in Gakenke. We discovered that there wasn’t a good reason why we needed to consume high priced, poor quality juice, yet we could produce high quality ourselves. Today we have more than twenty people working for us. Yet, when we started working, we only had ten people. But as we became bigger, we were able to get a loan which we’ve used to buy a modern machine. Today we are happy that we are able to make Buranga juice and wine made out of passion fruits and pineapples which are grown in our district. This gives our products added value.
What are the major challenges you face?
The cooperative doesn’t have sufficient funds to put it on a high level because there is a lot that needs to be done. We are limited in both on human and non-human capital. Packaging is another problem to the cooperative because all the bottles we use are purchased in Uganda.
How has this business changed your life?
When I was still a teacher my job was routine. But ever since I joined the world of business my life haven’t been the same. When you are doing a business you get a chance to meet different people with different views, attitudes, and perspectives. I have learnt how to share with others..
What challenges do you think that Rwandan women face?
Many women face the challenge of balancing family responsibilities with their ones at work. This is especially true for women in rural areas who don’t even have maids at home to help them.
When you have a husband who can’t understand you and what you are doing, it will always be a problem. This is because, in case you need to finance your project, you will not get a loan without his approval.
How do you spend your leisure time?
In my leisure time I go for outings or visit friends and relatives.
What is your relationship status?
I am widowed with four children
What message do you have for Rwandan women?
I would like to encourage women to join cooperatives because there is a big difference in the output of one person compared to that of many people. Women shouldn’t limit themselves because there many opportunities for them and there are resources that are still unused.
What are your future plans?
I want to see our cooperative growing. We plan to go from twenty staffs to at least forty, to go from 140 liters of juice concentrate to 1000 liters, to go from one small machine to many others, from selling inside country to exporting our juice.