It has been nearly two years since Girubuzima cooperative in Matimba Sector, Nyagatare District began processing ghee.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter made from cow milk that contains fewer dairy proteins than regular butter. Ghee can be used in place of regular butter or refined oil while cooking and is believed to be healthier.
Comprised of 20 women, eight young female adults and three men, the group is also dedicated to teaching younger people the culture of making ghee which they say is rapidly declining.
For centuries, Rwandan girls and women have been making ghee (gucunda), using a milk-churning gourd, locally known as ‘igisabo’, a giant cucurbitaceae that belongs the same family of pumpkins and watermelon.
Igisabo has been treated as an important cultural icon for centuries in Rwanda.
It is one of the traditional treasures that signifies wealth, dating as far back as ancient Rwanda.
The cooperative was motivated to push for more young people to continue the tradition in fear of modern norms overshadowing the Rwandan culture.
“We started the cooperative because we were seeing some customs and traditions from our culture were getting lost. We learned that people consuming ghee continued to decrease and that young people know nothing about ‘gucunda’,” Peace Kayitesi, one of the brains behind the cooperative explained.
Jane Umuganwa, 48, says that the cooperative was also started to discourage their clients from using refined oil which in the long term is a health hazard.
Jane Umuganwa, a member of the Girubuzima Matimba cooperative.
“Ghee is running out of stock around the country and we wanted to increase its availability,” Umuganwa said.
To shed light on the process of making ghee, Umuganwa explained that milk is poured into the Igisabo then it is shaken vigorously and continuously until it forms butter.
Once the butter separates itself from the milk, the remaining milk, which at this point is called ‘amacunda’ is drinkable.
Umuganwa says that this kind of milk can be used to improve the health of children suffering from malnutrition.
The major market of butter is groceries and supermarkets in Kigali City, while their jelly products are mostly bought by child sponsorship organisations operating in Rwanda.
The jelly derived from milk (known as ikimuri) has been in the past decades admired by Rwandans for making skin soft and healthy.
The cooperative uses 40 liters every day. Every 10 litres gives six kilos of ghee. They supply about 50 kilograms to Kigali every week, with one kilo valued at Rwf4, 500.
“We wish to expand but currently we have no financial backup. Currently, we are waiting on a pledge made by the district authorities to sponsor us so that we can purchase equipment. This would help us to produce more,” she said.
Teaching young people
The members also credited their teamwork for providing an opportunity and platform where they can talk to teenage girls and enlighten them about cultural values.
“Being able to sit together, to do something together that you are all enjoying gives you a chance to tell stories and to impart some lessons about life and culture in general,” she said.
Six girls and three boys have so far completed the training by the cooperative.
The men are used in the process of gathering, grinding and preparing wild herbs to use in the production of jelly.
“The only challenge they have is limited financial capacity. With more capacity, they would be teaching a larger number. There are many people my age who are very interested in joining,” said Oliva Kobusingye, one of the young people who were trained by the cooperative.
The cooperative has managed to buy a motorcycle from their revenues and pays health insurance for all the families of their members.