By Emmanuel Ntirenganya
In season A of 2014, COPCMA, a cooperative of maize and beans farmers in Rugarama Sector of Gatsibo District struggled to collect about 25 tonnes of maize for sale, in what the cooperative president, Dancille Uwamariya described as a result of poor cooperative management, lack of good farming practices and ready market resulting from lack of bargaining power.
But, in 2016, the cooperative got about 65 tonnes of grade one (best quality) maize produce; and in this year (2017), they supplied 160 tonnes of grade one maize to Rwanda Grain and Cereals Corporation (RGCC) thanks to farming interventions from Farm to Market Alliance, an initiative intended to enable smallholder farmers to get quality and more agricultural yields for improved income and food security.
The cooperative grows maize at about 50 hectares in the area.
Uwamariya said that their cooperative sold a kilogramme of maize at Rwf215 in 2016, but this year, they traded it at Rwf350.
The project beneficiary farmers are from 25 countries where it will be working, including Rwanda and Tanzania.
According to WFP and International Finance Corporation (IFC), two institutions spearheading the initiative, the Alliance’s commitment is to build capacity of 1.5 million farmers, whose produce is estimated to generate US$750 million (about Rwf622 billion) per year of aggregated purchasing demand from commercial buyers.
Uwamariya was speaking during a pre planting meeting for farmer cooperatives benefiting from the initiative ahead of the forthcoming season A of 2018 farming year.
The meeting held in Kigali in July this year, was organised by Rwanda Development Organisation (RDO) which is one of organisations implementing the project in Rwanda, in conjunction with World Food Programme (WFP).
Under the programme, Uwamariya said, they get loans, good farming practices support, post-harvest handling interventions, and ready market which enable smallholder farmers register improved productivity.
“We had no ready market, we were selling to middlemen, and there was poor cooperative management,” she said explaining that the project empowered the cooperative with relevant management skills.
Talking about the benefits they are registering, she said that the cooperative members’ children are getting school fees support and health insurance subscriptions from the cooperative’s earnings, adding that they have also started building decent houses for their families.
Saori Kitajima, the Regional Monitoring and Evaluation Focal for the project at WFP said that traditionally, WFP provides food to those who don’t have [enough] food such as refugees or people affected by disasters, as relief services.
“But we want to go and provide much more long-term support, so that people in these countries become more resilient and get sustainable businesses,” she noted.
She said that they are providing agronomic support and training in agricultural practices so that farmers, through cooperatives, produce more and quality yields, and link them to market in a bid to earn more revenues.
Last season, in Rwanda, the project worked with 22,000 farmers from about 80 cooperatives, who collected and sold about 5,000 tonnes of maize.
This season, the Alliance wants to work with about 30,000 farmers grouped in some 100 cooperatives.
The project’s interventions to small-scale farmers
Indeed, market engagement with smallholder farmers is traditionally perceived as high risk, but, reliable demand is key to unlocking the smallholder value chain.
The initiative, which started in 2016, therefore, supports smallholder farmers to move from subsistence farming to market-oriented agriculture by connecting demand for their crops with formal markets, and further by helping them to access formal contracts.
The project will offer farmers access to not only quality seeds and other inputs needed for improved productivity, but also agriculture insurance to cushion farmers against climate change shocks and diseases which they say ravage their crops.
Towards satisfying local market demand
The Director General for agriculture development at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr. Charles Murekezi said that staple food crops have ready markets both in Rwanda and outside the country.
He cited Africa Improved Food (AIF) and MINIMEX – two local agro-processing companies, which need about 50,000 tonnes of maize annually, adding that PRODEV, and other agro-processing factories including feed mills need over 80,000 tonnes of maize per year, which constitute a large market that has not yet been satisfied by local farmers.
The cross border market assessment carried out in February 2017 showed that 136 percent more maize was exported from Rwanda to other countries, compared to the quantity exported in 2016 as Murekezi noted.
However, he observed that maize is one of the commodities that Rwanda imports from Uganda, whereby 113,000 metric tonnes were imported last year, costing Rwf10 billion.
These statistics on imports and demand imply that there are some missing links that need to be fixed in a bid to have a sustainable and effective supply-demand chain.
Rwanda has silos (storing facilities) with capacity of over 200,000 tonnes of cereals, which Dr. Murekezi said the public private partnership can help utilize through buying the local produce and ensure that it remains within the country.
This move, he said could help the country to get surest preparedness against food insecurity that can be associated with drought or climate change shocks, calling for the scaling up of the Alliance’s interventions to benefit more farmers.
Bahati Wenslars, Operations Advisor at Rwanda Grain and Cereal Council (RGCC) said that this project is very important as thanks to it “Buyers will get more and quality produce thanks to farming practices interventions, and the farmers are going to get a ready market for their produce,” he said.
RGCC buys between 10,000 and 15,000 tonnes of maize per year.
The project has launched plan to work with KCB Bank Rwanda and CRDB Bank in Tanzania for the upcoming 2017/2018 crop season so as to facilitate farmers’ access to financial services.
It is structured to work with farmers in each country over a three-year timespan.
Initially, IFC will invest in US$3 million facility in Rwanda and US$10 million in Tanzania.