Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) has committed to harnessing the socio-economic potential of cooperatives in a bid to drive up the country’s development and further improve livelihoods of their members.
The commitment was made by the RCA Director-General, Prof. Jean Bosco Harelimana.
Harelimana was speaking in Kigali during the international cooperative conference, which brought together over 1,000 participants from 95 countries from all over the world to share experiences of the cooperative movement from Africa and beyond for sustainable and inclusive development.
The conference that started on October 14 and concluded on Thursday, October 17.
Harelimana said that cooperatives have proven to be an indispensable vehicle for development and increased profits.
He cited Land O'Lakes – an American agricultural cooperative that focuses on the dairy industry – which some people mistaken for an NGO because of its presence in many countries and its portfolio, which was estimated at over $14 billion as of 2018.
Thanks to its outstanding performance, he said, this cooperative provides supports to other cooperatives.
“There are cooperatives which have billions of US dollars [in revenues or assets]. They started as small groups, but they progressively built momentum through persistence and they managed to make huge profits,” he said.
He said that there are cooperatives in Rwanda that are promising, citing COPRORIZ Ntende – a cooperative of rice growers in Gatsibo District, which has built a hotel, among other investments.
COPRORIZ has assets valued at over Rwf1 billion.
The cooperative, he said, has also embarked on a poultry project through which it will be providing chickens to every member in order to improve the welfare and nutrition of their families.
“With better management of cooperatives, members lead decent lives,” he said.
“We will continue to inspect cooperatives, build their capacities, coach the members and ensure their financial literacy through training, as well as link them to financial institutions in order to help them get more profits from their business undertakings,” he added.
Other cooperatives with good performance, Harelimana said, include IAKIB – a dairy farmers’ cooperative based in Gicumbi District, whose annual turnover is over Rwf2 billion.
Speaking to The New Times, IAKIB president, Pierre Célestin Hakizimana said that the cooperative started with about 300 members in 2006 thanks to cows they got from Girinka a government cattle distribution initiative that target poor households.
“We started by collecting about 150 litres of milk per day, but now we collect 38,000 litres in a single day,” he said adding that it membership has grown to over 4,000.
“Currently, we operate 10 milk collection centres while we had none when we started. We also own seven vehicles among other assets. In a nutshell, the lives of our members have changed for the better,” he said.
Underscoring the benefits that have been accrued from the cooperative, he cited the considerable shift by members from the poverty trap adding that they now easily pay school fees, for their children besides making timely contributions towards the community-based health insurance.
Their farming has also significantly improved, courtesy of the manure they get from the cows, which is used to fertilise their farms.
The cooperative, he said, employees 65 permanent workers, and 250 others who carry milk from different parts to its milk collection centres.
Going forward, he said, the cooperative learnt some good practices from other countries that participated in the just-concluded conference in Kigali, which includes protecting the welfare of workers during retirement period.
“Members should get pension benefits for them to lead a dignified life once they retire. Therefore, through the general assembly of the cooperative, we are going to consider making contributions to social security for our members to be able to get pension benefits because it is necessary,” he said.
Harelimana said that the cooperative development institution’s vision is to support this cooperative (IAKIB) to own a mega milk processing factory for it to optimise profits.
“We have been encouraging them to make a comprehensive plan in such a way that the cooperative can collect all the milk from Gicumbi [District], the entire Northern Province and beyond and process it,” Harelimana said.
“We hope that it will realise it as we want to ensure that there is major achievement made by a cooperative,” he said adding that the cooperative is currently getting assistance from Land O'Lakes.
Soraya Hakuziyaremye, Minister for Trade and Industry said that cooperatives are enterprises jointly owned and democratically managed by and for their members to realise their common socio-economic needs and aspirations.
“This fundamental mechanism assures the creation of numerous sustainable entreprises, job security and economic empowerment to the community,” she said.
In developing countries, she said, cooperative structures allow communities to put together their resources and solve problems, to identify common goals, and target the causes and symptoms of poverty.
“Therefore, cooperatives are an essential tool in reducing poverty,” she said.
“Cooperatives have huge potentials to effect collaborative social changes by empowering communities to uplift their living conditions. In light of current uncertainties in global and political and economic climate, this is a sliver line in the sky,” she observed.
The Minister said that it is good that the conference adopted numerous resolutions to support cooperative progress including first positioning of cooperatives with business report services, access to finance, market and new technologies to improve sustainable livelihoods.
European Union Ambassador to Rwanda, Nicola Bellomo said that the impact of cooperatives is big and impressive, pointing out that Europe has more than 130,000 cooperatives with more than 4.3 million employees, and an annual turnover of close to €1 trillion.
At the global level, he said, there are some 3 million cooperatives they provide employment to more than 280 million people and which represent the world employed population.
“We aim at increasing the capacity of the cooperatives at local, regional and global level so they can perform more effectively the role as independent actors,” he said.
“So, the European Union encourages cooperatives as key contributors to policy-making at national, regional and global levels and particularly in the monitoring and formulation of policies ad agreements for the implementation of the sustainable development goals,” he added.
In Rwanda, there are 9,706 cooperatives with share capital of more than Rwf47.8 billion. All those cooperatives count over five million members (comprising over 2.77 million men, and over 2.25 million women), according to statistics from RCA.