Starting today, Business Times will be profiling people or groups that are undertaking farming as a business. Today, Business Times’ triphomus muyagu writes about how farming has transformed the lives of COKAWI Co-operative members
They had lost all hope of leading a rewarding and meaningful life. Most of them were just waiting for death and considered themselves as outcasts. But life had a surprise for them. Something akin to chance meets opportunity, which turned around their lives for the better.
This is the story of a group of 12 residents of Kimihurura sector Gasabo district in Kigali, who have defied the odds presented by the HIV/AIDS scourge to engage in farming as an income-generating activity to improve their livelihood and that of their families.
It all started when the 12, like Jesus’ disciples, heeded government’s call on job creation to fight urban poverty.
The group efforts to improve their lives were supplemented by the acquisition of a piece of land from the government and training from USAID and African Evangelistic Enterprise Rwanda as well as African Blessing, a non-governmental organisation.
The group’s other goal is preventing the spread of HIV. After having found a common cause and purpose, the group of farmers formed a co-operative society in 2008, according to the president Elisee Nzamurambaho. The society that is locally known as COKAWI Co-operative is mainly development oriented.
It is comprised of farmers who are engaged in crop agriculture and livestock farming. They grow maize, beans, vegetables, as well as rear goats, rabbits and poultry.
All these efforts of self-reliance were out of need to sustain their families after most of the women lost their husbands.
Nzamurambaho says the members have so far been able to meet most of their needs because of hard work.
“Presently, we have 48 goats, 87 rabbits, 30 chickens and do other farming activities,” he said.
Every morning the members go to the group’s farm as a daily routine. They irrigate the crops, feed the animals and do general cleaning as well as sell vegetables to clients who find them at the farm.
Nzamurambaho notes that most of their clients are from around Gasabo district, while others come from city markets. The group sells most of their produce at retail prices, he adds. He says they use manure from the aminals in their gardens.
Five years of doing farming as a business have not been in vain for COKAWI Co-operative members.
“All of us are able to pay medical insurance for our families and children’s school fees.
“Others have bought plots and are constructing houses using the money earned from farming.
“We also saved some of money with Kimihurura Sacco and banks,” Nzamurambaho, who is also the group’s spokesperson, says, adding that they save at least Rwf1m per season from the various farming activities.
“The money is going to help us build houses and expand the business,” adds Nzamurambaho.
Nzamurambaho says since some of the members are HIV-positive it affects the their productivity. But he adds that this has not made them to give up work.
Although they use some irrigation, it is mainly manual and tideous. Also, unpredictable weather changes affect their activities.
The group also lacks enough financial support to employee skilled manpower to take the enterprise to another level.
Nzamurambaho notes that lack of a reliable market, especially for the produce means they earn little money at one time or another.
Advice to farmers
Nzamurambaho advises Rwandans not to despise farming, saying it is a rewarding business. He adds farming as a business also supplements government programme of Hanga Umurimo.
“When you put effort in whatever you’re doing, you succeed. Hard work has made us what we are today,” Nzamurambaho says. He also advises people to develop a saving culture if they want to come out of poverty.
Nzamurambaho says their dream is to build a house for every co-operative member.
“We are working very hard to ensure that all of us build our own houses. We are tired of renting and ’donating’ our money to other people,” he says.
He points out that they also want to transform their way of farming and adopt modern farming methods to simplify their work and boost productivity.
“COKAWI will in the near future be a model farming group and a major supplier of produce to markets like Kimironko and Remera, as we prepare ourselves for the export market,” the society’s boss says.
He adds that their goals are now within reach after the government pledged to give them three more hectares of land to expand their farm.
“Because most the seedling or animal breeds are inferior, we hope to acquire improved breeds that can enhance crop and animal production,” Nzamurambaho explains.
He adds that the group will continue implementing government plans as a way of expressing their gratitude for the help it has rendered them.
Nyiridandi Mapabano, the Kimihurura sector executive secretary, said despite the fact that Kimihurura is a residential place in the city, they promote farming.
“We are aiming at economic transformation and poverty reduction among the citizens,” he said.
Mariam Ndaye, 58, one of the members:
Before joining the co-operative I was lonely, poor and had lost all hope. In fact, I was just waiting for death. But when I joined the co-operative, my life changed for the better. I can now afford all the essesntial things I need and I am able to take care of my family without seeking help from anybody.
I do all the other activities the business undertakes. Above all, I am now happy and healthy thanks to our farming business. I have also acquired a lot of farming skills and am now ready to train others so that they benefit from farming.
Generally, looking at farming as a business has done a lot to transform my life. I am what I am today because I joined a farming co-operative.