At one time, Christine Murebwayire did not even think that she would ever have a smile on her face.
That was after losing her husband in 2003. The mother of four says that the loss of the bread winner was a permanent scar, not only to the family, but also the relatives.
“I was just involved in home activities that included taking care of the children,” Murebwayire says.
Just like any loss of a family head, Murebwayire’s life dramatically changed for the worse. It was at this time that she had to think of how she would take full responsibility of the family.
“I am a teacher by profession, but because my husband used to bring home all that was needed, I never used to work,” she confesses.
She narrates that as life became so hard, she realized that she had made a big mistake by not economically contributing to the family`s welfare and development.
Warning other mothers against the tendency, she pointed out that only engaging in home or kitchen work does not only lead women to entirely depend on their partners, but also affects the rate at which families can develop.
She says that in addition to providing basic needs for the family like paying schools fees for her five children and medical bills, the cost of living in Kigali forced her to go back to her routes in the Eastern Province.
A year later, she came up with the idea of starting a cooperative, which is today known as Cooperative de Production du Vin de Banane (COPROVIBA).
However, it was by chance that her plans did not end on paper, as start-up capital was one of her major challenges.
“I had the idea, but I had no coin to start or implement it. Although I managed to start slowly, getting start-up capital was the hardest part of the project,” she says. It required at least Rwf90,000 for her to start the business.
“There should always be an alternative whenever one faces hard times or feels challenged than giving up a dream,” she says.
Just like any other business, the beginning was not easy for Murebwayire. But after sometime, many people realized that her initiative was of great importance not only to their families but the community in general.
According to the current state of the cooperative, it would have been a great loss for Murebwayire and the community if her plans were not implemented. This is based on how the cooperative has transformed her life and those of many others especially in the Eastern Province. The initiative has so far benefited over 200 families, according to Murebwayire.
“Yes, I was also in need of what to do, but as s cooperative, we are now focused on finding ways through which we can create jobs for many. I am sure that this will contribute to fighting unemployment and poverty,” she says.
She adds that this is evident as people working with the cooperative are able to send their children to school. Currently, the cooperative is employing over 40 people and plans to employee more.
In 2009, COPROVIBA was producing 1200 creates of wine, selling each at Rwf 5000. That year, it was earning Rwf1 million a week. Today production and sales have increased and COPROVIBA is now earning Rwf6 million a week.
Production is currently not only for local consumption, but also exports to other countries especially within the East African region. It has opened borders for them as they even travel around the world to exhibit their products.
And now that she is financially stable, Murebwayire, 44, has decided to pursue further studies. She is currently perusing a bachelors degree in Rural Development Studies at Independent Institute of Lay Adventist of Kigali (INILAK).
However, the success of the cooperative is partly attributed to the collaboration and support the cooperative has received from the Ministry of Agriculture through Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and other international agricultural bodies, including the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).
In 2010, RAB, in collaboration with ASARECA, came up with a project dubbed Improved Banana Technologies for Market and Income Generation in Rwanda. This was aimed at enhancing sustainable productivity, value addition and processing of bananas among banana farmers, processors and traders. Being the leading producer of the banana crop, the Eastern and Western Provinces were the first target.
Sveta Gaidashova, head of the Banana Programme at RAB, said that the programme has so far benefited about 580,000 farmers not only through giving them planting materials, but also building their capacity to carry out banana farming in a systematic way.
“One of our targets is to increase the production of cooking bananas by at least 60 percent by 2017 as well as developing a highly productive banana subsector in the country,” she says.
This, she says, will be achieved by, among others, disseminating improved and high yielding banana varieties as well as promoting improved management of pests and diseases.