Maniraguha Patrick and his family live in a small farming community in Gakuyo, Cyunuzi cell in Gatove sector, Kirehe District, in the east of Rwanda. Patrick is an active rice farmer growing rice in Cyunuzi marshland, where many men and women are working under different cooperatives. He is the president of COPRIK a rice farming cooperative in Kirehe district, one of the 23 cooperatives that are working with “Strengthening African Rural Smallholders (STARS) program, a 5 years program of ICCO Cooperation in partnership with Mastercard Foundation.
STARS aims to give farmers access to financial services and markets as well as agricultural markets, so they can improve their income and food security.
“ First of all, they assessed our cooperative, which helped us to know our weaknesses and strengths and where we needed to increase efforts to move forward and fully participate in the market.” Said Maniraguha. “ We have signed an MoU and we are now working together to find solutions. The cooperative were assessed using the SCOPEInsighttools, which are universal assessment tools that measure the level of farmers’ professionalism.
One of the main challenges most cooperatives have is access to markets and finance.
According to Maniraguha, working with STARS has brought a lot of positive changes; they have received training, business plan development, coaching and mentorship, gained exposure from various rice value chain stakeholders through business linkage events, workshops and meetings.
To support farmers make business linkages for markets and link them with financial institutions, the STARS program organized Business-to-Business (B2B) events for the rice and maize value chains.
Maniraguha attended the rice value chain B2B which brought together rice cooperatives, rice processors, business development service provider, agriculture consulting companies, financial institutions, agri-insurance companies, government &Non-governmental institutions, rice farmers federations, input suppliers etc.
The aim of the B2B event was to discuss and open opportunities for business synergy in the value chains, linking rice value chain actors and supporters so they can connect, network, talk business and make deals.
“ During the event, I had the opportunity to make a pitch about our cooperative, I was able to make new contacts, learnt from other cooperatives, got connection to financial institutions such as BRD, which could give larger loans, and we are planning to meet and discuss on business opportunities,” said Maniraguha.
The maize Business-to-Business (B2B) event also brought together maize value chain actors and supporters. Zainabu Uwizeyimana is the president of KABIYAKI Cooperative, based in Kamonyi District, in the south of the country and made of 90% women members, they plant maize. The cooperative was recognized and awarded for having produced and have sold 1st grade maize in 2017. At the B2B event, Zainabu met and discussed with financial institutions and other actors who could support their cooperative to access a bank loan and markets for their production.
“ I am proud that women can perform as or even better than men, this event help us improve our work as we interacted with value chain actors and we learnt a lot from them. For example, we learnt what other cooperatives are doing to increase production and quality, procedures and what it takes to access bank loan.” Explained Zainabu. She says that as smallholder farmers, STARS has helped them access to finance and markets.
“I really liked the experience because I knew a few financial institutions that offered tailored agricultural financial products. However after the event, I learned about available leasing products, which will help because we were struggling to acquire equipment” she said.
She goes on to indicate that the event eased to link them to maize processors where they had an effective discussion that involved commitment to work together to improve maize production.
“The event was an eye opener because Rwanda Agricultural board officials explained the seed problem and how they are working on increasing seed multipliers to avail enough seeds to farmers. I also wish that STARS would continue organizing such events for farmers to network with stakeholders,” she adds.
For sustainable development, smallholder farmers have to move from subsistence farming towards farming as a business, and in business, access to information and access to finance are important for success. “B2B events offers farmers the opportunity to learn, network, talk business and build win-win business relations,” said Netlyn Bernard, ICCO Cooperation Rwanda Country Manager.
At the end of both B2B, resolutions and commitments were taken to improve the rice value chain but also improve businesses among chain actors and supporters.
In Rwanda, the aim of the STARS program is “food security and better income” for 44,000 (50% women) smallholders farmers and their households. The program uses a sustainable approach to empower smallholders to get better agricultural skills, and access to suitable financial services so they can create means to better take care for their families, be self-reliant and impact others in their communities.
STARS is working with financial institutions to develop tailor made financial agri-products so farmers can access loans that are adapted to their farming needs. So far, farmers involved in growing vegetables, Irish potatoes and bananas were able to access finance.
In value chain development, the program is focusing on the maize and rice value chains and their link with financial services, as well as the development of business models for market based producers.
The Strengthening African Rural Smallholders (STARS) program is implemented by ICCO Cooperation in partnership with Mastercard Foundation; targeting 210,000 rural farmers in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Senegal. STARS is addressing challenges that smallholder farmers face such as limited skills, lack of credit, minimal access to markets, and limited access to appropriate financial products.