Meet the cooperative that milk cows and grow bananas to provide an additional income
Rwanda, as with other developing countries, is host to a growing number of government-registered cooperatives. Cooperatives in this context are groups of independents (i.e., one representative per family), which jointly own and run a business or farm, dividing the profits and benefits between themselves. They have the advantages of facilitating joint collateral for micro financial loans, mitigating the effects of loss and of pooling resources and knowledge. FXB Rwanda, an NGO in partnership with funding bodies such as USAID and Protravel, helps set-up and monitor cooperatives throughout Rwanda. One such group, in the village of Cyeza, Muhanga district, successfully generates income through sales of bananas and milk.
“We have 150 trees on our land”, Claudine, the President, explains. “Each produces two yields of banana per year, though our harvests are irregular. Each year the trees adapt better to the manure and climate, producing more. We also own three cows”.
The structure of the cooperative is highly democratic. The five-person board consists of a President, Vice President, Secretary and two councilors, elected triennially. There is also an audit committee who control the cooperative’s finances, orders and expenses. All proceedings stem from a constitution, whilst labor is divided equally and meetings occur every Tuesday from 8.00am-12.00am. Most members have individual Income Generating Activities (IGAs) alongside their collective IGA, which utilize transferrable skills. Membership is protected, and the joining fee is currently 300,000rwf ($450), which compensates for the previous endeavors of earlier members.
“A cost-benefit analysis is necessary for each new member because it took years to become established and seek official approval at district, sector and national levels,” Claudine explains.
However, there are also significant challenges connected to the administration of a cooperative. First, greater accountability and transparency is required from management, which relies upon the trust of members. A second challenge is initially low income, as cows and banana trees require time before they generate full yields. Financial literacy and mathematical skills are also generally low, which problematizes accurate record keeping. Finally, mobilization is an issue. Members are too widely distributed, with some commute times over an hour.
“Our vision is to buy adjacent land and expand the banana plantation,” Claudine explains. “We have come a long way and are so proud of what we have achieved”. The sense of collective spirit amongst members of the Cyeza cooperative was unmistakable. With the continued help of FXB and USAID, more is on the way.