Six months ago, the Nyamagabe District authorities organised several carpentry workshop owners and freelance carpenters under one group as part of the efforts to promote co-operatives as vehicles for poverty eradication and development.
Koperative Y’ababaji ya Nyamagabe (COOANYA) was facilitated by the Southern Province district and World Vision to set up a facility where they could pool resources, including skills and equipment, Francois Xavier Munyensanga, the vice-president of the co-operative, says.
Munyensanga points out that, previously, they faced a lot of challenges as individuals.
“We were scattered, with limited skills and knowledge on how to run carpentry business sustainably. Some of us were involve in unethical business practices that affected profitability and tarnished the image of carpenters, generally,” he explains.
He notes that after the district leaders mobilised and sensitised them about the benefits of working together in a co-operative, and later built a shared industrial space, their fortunes started to improve.
This, he adds, was partly due to the fact that they worked for the common goal, which increased production, enhanced product quality and sales, and eventually their standards of living.
“Coming together as Nyamagabe town carpenters was the cornerstone on which our growth as individuals and group was built. It made it easier for us to share machines and knowledge, which boosted output and quality. Besides, customers can now access our products from one place. It’s a one-stop centre for furniture and handicrafts in the area,” Munyensanga says.
He adds that the move has also helped them cut cost of production and increase returns for the different group’s business units.
The co-operative makes chairs of varying types, beds, tables and workstations, as well as school desks, among others. It also houses a crafts centre.
“Previously, we were disorganised and competing for the few customers, and we always got low returns, especially because many of the carpenters lacked skills to do some of the jobs. It was also hard for customers to easily access our services since we were scattered all over the town and its outskirts,” he says.
He adds that since they were operating as individuals, some of them could not benefit from government initiatives that target small-scale businesses.
Most of the group members were also producing items that laced creativity and innovation to meet the current market needs.
Munyesanga says the carpenters were able to overcome some of these challenges after forming a co-operative, which opened new opportunities for them.
“World Vision and district authorities constructed an accessible place for us, complete with a showroom for our furniture, and a modern workshop and stores. The facility also has a handicraft centre, where products like charcoal stoves, baskets, and locally-made shoes are made and sold,” Munyansenga explains.
According to Ananias Sentozi, the World Vision Rwanda Southern Province zonal manager, the one-stop centre is part of the district’s master plan, which seeks to encourage co-operative movement to enhance production and improved access to market,” he says.
“So, when they contacted us, we were glad to finance the construction of the facility. World Vision believes that the facility will benefit the group and the community generally,” he adds.
Munyansenga says working as a group has increased their sales, adding that the co-operative gets customers from different parts of Southern Province.
“We have also managed to win several tenders to supply furniture to different schools and organisations, thanks to pooling of expertise and other resources,” he says.
Customers speak out
Buyers say having all furniture makers in one place saves time as they do not have to move from place to place looking for the items.
“The centre has a variety of quality products, especially sofa sets, cupboards, beds, tables, and handicrafts. The facility has made the products easily accessible to customers. It is also a symbol of progress in our community,” says Jeannine Mukamana, a customer who had come to buy a bed.
Benefits of working together
Francoise Mukasanga, a member of the co-operative, says joining the co-operative has enabled her enhance earnings and improve her family’s standards of living.
“My savings have doubled since I joined the co-operative, thanks to additional customers.”
Mukasanga adds that she has been able to secure a loan using the co-operative as a guarantor to expand her timber business.
She notes that members’ savings have grown since they contribute to the co-operative savings basket every month.
She adds that the co-operative also gives them funding, which has helped them to improve their economic status.
Valance Ndayisenga, another member, says he has benefited from sharing of ideas, which has increased his skills and improved quality of the furniture.
“We share the different skills and knowledge among ourselves… this has boosted my creativity,” he says.
He says joining the co-operative has greatly improved his career.
Damien Mugabo, the Rwanda Co-operative Agency (RCA) director general, is quoted on the RCA website as saying that the government views co-operatives as a potential vehicle through which the members could create employment and expand access to income-generating activities, develop their business, including entrepreneurial and managerial capacities through education and training.
Mugabo adds that co-operatives will help increase savings and investment, and improve social well-being, noting that the agency gives special emphasis on gender equality, housing, education, health care and community development.
COOANYA looks to the future
Munyensanga says the group will in the near future acquire a loan to buy modern equipment to increase production and find better market for their products, especially in Kigali.
He said they look to increase the co-operative’s monthly income, which currently stands at between Rwf3 million and Rwf4 million. They also want to increase the money they contribute to the co-operative savings basket from Rwf2 million to about Rwf3.5 million.
The group has 30 permanent workers, according to Munyesanga.
Munyesanga advises people to join co-operatives, arguing that working with other people of a common interest and aspirations gives opportunity to learn and improve their skills and income.
“Our lives have improved significantly, and we are now economically independent,” he said. He attributes the success to pooling of resources by members, adding that co-operatives are good vehicles to reduce poverty among the masses.
What members say about the co-operative movement
Our social and economic development is enough testimony of the substantial benefits of joining co-operatives. In only six months, most members incomes have doubled, which means that working in groups is the way to go for all Rwandans. Co-operatives have the potential to help create more jobs and reduce poverty among rural masses.
Jean De Dieu Uwitonze
Nothing beats the joy of getting an employment opportunity.... This is what the co-operative has made possible for us. Since I got a job at the co-operative, my livelihood has improved. Most importantly, the co-operative has helped me save, which is a foundation of development.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba