As the start of another selling season looms, there is high excitement among maize farmers across Rwanda. One of these farmers is Faustin Nshimiyumukiza also president of Urugwiro cooperative, located in Kayonza District and specializing in maize farming. With the other 19 members of the cooperative, Faustin is packing in white sacks the maize harvested recently to be sold to Africa Improved Foods (AIF).
AIF is a private company producing nutritious products intended mostly to young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. In 2017, the company opened its first manufacturing facility in Kigali, Rwanda to address malnutrition and stunting in the country and the East-African region by producing and distributing high-quality nutritious foods made with locally grown maize and other ingredients.
In 2017, World Vision partnered with AIF to facilitate a market linkage between maize farmer groups and AIF. This project, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is called Economic Development Project for Local Producer Groups in Rwanda. It is a local value chain development project where small-scale farmers can increase their income by working in groups to better understand and connect to markets, thereby increasing their profitability.
“We mobilized and provided farmers with agricultural training to teach them on AIF business model in order to respond well to the company’s strict quality requirements. We also strengthened the farmer groups to work collectively and supply the large quantities of maize requested by AIF,” explains Ryoichiro Mochizuki, manager of the project.
As a result of these trainings, the rate of AIF’S rejections due to poor quality of the maize produced by the farmer groups has been reduced from approximately 90% in 2017 to 25% this year.
Urugwiro cooperative is among the six farmer groups that World Vision linked to AIF for maize selling in Kayonza District. Faustin Nshimiyumukiza and the other members of the cooperative have learnt to improve the quality of their maize production but most importantly they have accessed a more profitable market.
“We used to sell our maize to informal collectors who bought the maize at a lower price compared to AIF’s. Currently, a kilogram is sold at 130-140 RwF on the local market while AIF buys a kilogram at 187 RwF. It’s a big profit for us,” Nshimiyumukiza indicates.
The market linkage between maize farmers and AIF has also consistently reduced the post-harvest work. In the past, after harvesting, farmers had to dry the maize, shell it, store the grains and sell it to buyers. The whole process could take between 30-45 days. With AIF, farmers only remove the husks from the maize, pack it and sell it. This takes one to two days in addition to the process of drying the maize which takes a week.
“Shelling the maize was the hardest part and all my children had to help me with it,” recalls Clementine Uwineza, member of Urugwiro cooperative. “This time with AIF, I did all the work alone since it was not difficult,” she adds.
For this season, Urugwiro cooperative was able to sell to AIF 1,800 Kg of maize for 327, 966 Rwf. With this quantity of maize, the cooperative would have earned 245, 536 Rwf at the local market.
“Our cooperative is greatly benefitting from this market opportunity. We are now planning to buy health insurances for every member and their family members. We’ll also progressively buy livestock for each member until we all have one,” Nshimiyumukiza says.
So far, the partnership between World Vision and AIF has impacted 4426 farmers from 20 groups across the districts of Gakenke, Bugesera, Rutsiro, Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe, Ngororero and Gatsibo. For Tom Swinkels, AIF’s Partnership Manager, this is a great partnership that they wish to expand to more cooperatives and farmers groups in the coming years.
“The partnership has been very valuable in allowing AIF to reach the smallest and most vulnerable farmers thanks to World Vision’s good relationships with cooperatives and farmer groups that grow and sell maize in Rwanda. In Kayonza for example, AIF has recently bought approximately 100 metric tons of maize from six World Vision-supported farmer groups that AIF otherwise would not have been able to reach. ” Swinkels said.