WHEN Donat Ntarekeraho and other residents of Musanze decided to form a cooperative in 2006, little did they know that this would be a turning point in their lives.
Ntarekeraho, 46, says the cooperative, Hesha Ikoro Agaciro (Kohia) started from scratch with no capital and skills to speak of.
Operating in Mugari Cell, Shingiro Sector in Musanze District, the cooperative brought together 46 people, including the so-called historically marginalised.
“We started as a small cooperative making stoves from volcanic rocks, we used rudimental tools like sharp knives and hoes to shape the rocks and it was very laborious,” said Ntarekeraho, a father of three.
He says when they started, their products were of poor quality and were sold at low prices to area residents, despite the effort they put in.
They continued using rudimentary technology but worked hard to improve on the quality of products they made. As they improved their skills, the clientele also continued to expand.
“As we worked on improving the quality of the stoves we made, clients came from other district s to visit and buy our products,” he says, citing a delegation from Kayonza District, Eastern Province that bought over 200 stoves from the cooperative.
He said things got better after people who had bought their stoves spread the word, saying they were using far less firewood.
“As we sold more, we saved some money for future projects. We could save up to Rwf200,000 a month,” he says.
How the coop evolved
Members of Kohia cooperative say a major breakthrough came when they won an award after emerging among the best cooperative in the country.
The award, which they received from government, was accompanied by a cheque worth Rwf3.8 million which they used to buy a big chunk of land to expand their area of operation.
The cooperative also used part of the money to help over 20 neighbours build modern houses.
“We provided them with ironsheets to build modern houses because the volcanic rocks we use are from their land,” Ntarekeraho says.
They also secured a Rwf22 million grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which they used to build a house and buy a modern machine they use in making their products.
“We built a house at Rwf8 million and bought an electronic machine that enabled us shift from manual to mechanical fabrication of our different products, thus increasing the volume of our products.
Apart from making bricks and stoves, the volcanic rocks are now being transformed into different construction materials, including tiles and ventilators.
“This machine has totally transformed our way of working, our products are given various sizes and shapes depending on the clients’ wish,” he says.
The cooperative can now produce over 500 bricks per day and more tiles but members say they still cannot meet current demand which is expanding by the day.
They say the cooperative makes between Rwf1 million to 1.5 million which is shared amongst the members.
Other members speak out
Members of cooperative believe in the future, their cooperative will grow to become a major plant supplying construction materials to the country and beyond.
“I am now a proud mother, I know how to make a modern stove and have learnt a lot from this cooperative, I am no longer a beggar. I am optimistic the future will be better for me and my children,” said Floride Nyirambabazi, a mother of three.
The cooperative members say the main challenge they face is lack of electricity which compels them to use a generator, which is not only expensive to use, but also poses an environmental hazard.
“We also have a problem of production because our current output cannot satisfy the available market. One machine is not enough and we need more to boost production. We still need financial institutions to give us a loan to buy the machines but we remain optimistic things will work out,” Ntarekeraho said.
Members of cooperative also urged government institutions to continue helping in building their capacities to ensure they make more products and also improve on the quality.
Aimable Iyamuremye, the executive secretary of Shingiro Sector, hailed the cooperative, saying it has not only changed lives of the members but also helped change the sector, which was previously synonymous with poverty.
He said they had appealed to concerned institutions to bring electricity to the area and was optimistic it will be available soon, adding the impact of the cooperative to the national development is huge.
On transport, he said the feeder road linking Byangabo-Shingiro Kinigi will be constructed soon to facilitate not only the cooperative members but also other development activities such as agriculture and livestock in the area in general.