Three years ago, Reba Kure Cooperative was a small group of individuals buying and selling produce in rural Musanze. Members would be happy just being able to make ends meet, albeit marginally.
Although their dream was big, not a single member of the manly grain trading company dreamt of ever growing into a multi-million franc investment entity that manufactures machine components and implements.
Pascal Mbonabirama, the president of Reba Kure, said: “We started small as a cooperative; buying and selling food items at local market. We sold beans, maize, Irish potatoes among others.”
Their hope for bigger things ahead started to grow when profit began trickling in.
“Back then, we could not make big profits, but we were determined to work hard and boost our incomes,” he added.
With time, the cooperative increased its area of operation – taking produce to markets beyond Musanze District.
As savings increased, the cooperative decided to tap the multiple skills possessed by some of the members by diversifying the business. A welding and metal fabrication division was subsequently launched.
“We invested in welding because there was market for the products. We used money earned from selling produce to buy some materials to start welding—making metal products and repairing metals for our clients,” he said.
The two lines of business have helped the coop build a brand name in Musanze and beyond, members say.
Hanga Umurimo programme
While Reba Kure continued to grow its cash flow, sometimes savings up to Rwf700,000 per month, it was never a smooth ride all the time.
According to Mbonabirama, although members worked hard, the biggest challenge they faced was with the quality of the products, which he said remained largely poor.
Yet for the quality to improve, there was need to invest in modern machinery—whose cost was not easily affordable to the young coop.
In 2012, the cooperative submitted its project proposal to the Ministry of Trade and Industry under the Hanga Umurimo (create own job) programme.
The programme aims at empowering the population to come up with creative ideas for job creation, empowering communities with basic business skills and identifying individuals with entrepreneurial skills and nurturing good and bankable business idea.
“We could not make quality products because our materials were archaic. So, as a cooperative, we heard of Hanga Umurimo programme, we applied and secured a loan of Rwf45 million,” he said.
Loan and more ventures
The loan came in two instalments. The coop used the first Rwf24 milion to buy a machine that moulds small machines used in metal fabrication.
With this, Mbonabirama says, they are now able to make various metal tools that are needed to help Rwandans shift from handmade traditional tools to mechanised means of production.
They include stone grinding machines, flour grinding machines, grain milling machines and vehicles containers among others.
With a broader product range, Reba Kure is no longer a cooperative, but has since transformed into an investment group.
The Group also recently received the rest of the loan of Rwf21 million from Hanga Umurimo and used it to buy more materials.
Members are hopeful that their products will soon gain broad market acceptance beyond the local markets in Musanze, schools and small enterprises who currently buy their products.
“We can now make many machines that are needed by small-scale industries and we sell them after connecting them with engines. But some clients prefer buying the parts and connect them to the engines on their own,” Mbonabirama said.
“We are grateful for the loan we acquired and are committed to working hard to pay back. Our target is to be more creative and innovative to improve ‘Made in Rwanda’ products and we are optimistic that we are on course,” he said.
Indeed, the Sacco has started servicing the loan, making it one of the few successful projects under the government-sponsored Hanga Umurimo programme that is expected to help create about 200,000 jobs every year.
“Since I started working with Reba Kure, my living conditions have improved, I am paid monthly. I can pay school fees for my children and I am now constructing a house,” says Eric Gatete, one of the employees.
The group has about 15 members who each started with share capital of Rwf35,000 and now employs more than 20 workforce.
The investment group is currently facing challenges related to lack of its own place to work from. Monthly rent is a big drain to resources.
The other challenge is electricity that sometimes goes off while they are busy working.
Jean Claude Musabyimana, the Musanze vice mayor for economic affairs, said there is a plan to construct an industrial park, complete with all facilities, for businesses such this one.