Growing and training a farmers’ cooperative to secure their families’ livelihoods
Kirehe District is a remote area in eastern Rwanda, right at the border to Tanzania in the east and Burundi in the south. Innocent Nyakayiho – a family man and farmer – lives in this district, where almost 90 % of the people, just like him, depend on agriculture and live in rural settings.
For much of his life, Innocent has been cultivating crops just to feed his own family. Despite his many years of experience in agriculture, Innocent was unaware of the opportunities that modern cash-crops posed to improve his livelihood. So, he and many of his fellow farmers continued to plant crops that never allowed him to make enough money to lift himself and his family out of their precarious circumstances:
“We used to produce beans, potatoes and bananas just for living, we didn’t know that we could produce other modern plants to gain more money and start small businesses.”
According to Innocent, his family faced many hardships. He lacked money to pay his children’s school fees and struggled to make ends meet.
Ready for export: Ejo Heza’s newly trained members
To improve his financial situation, Innocent has become a member of the cooperative Ejo Heza in January 2022. Since chilli peppers are in high demand worldwide, the cooperative helped Innocent to cultivate chilli on his land. As a member of the cooperative, he was trained and coached in good and modern agricultural practices related to the new crop between January and April 2022. He was also provided with post-harvest facilities such as a sun drier to ensure the quality of his harvest, so that the produce is suitable for export into international markets.
After the initial training, farmers like Innocent were visited on their land over the course of several months to help verify if they put the learned skills into practice or to receive further on-site advice to improve their production. Ultimately, the aim is to create new jobs in the cooperative and increase income for existing members.
For Innocent, the materials and hands-on skills he received in the training helped him switch to a more lucrative crop and increase his production. Additionally, farmers were equipped with better machines to reduce the amount of physical labour and learn about techniques to increase their harvest. Moisture meters, for example, contributed to the increase in high-quality production that many farmers achieved after joining Ejo Heza. Training on the production of organic composting enabled farmers to produce their own manure.
The week-long training Innocent got to participate in, the coaching and the equipment was provided jointly by Ejo Heza and the Rwandan non-governmental organisation African Evangelist Enterprise (AEE) as part of the “Cooperative action and training for chilli producers” project. Supported financially by Invest for Jobs, the project aims to contribute to the commercialisation of rural agriculture in Rwanda and to improve working conditions for farmers like Innocent. By December 2022, AEE has mobilised around 240 new members like Innocent to join the cooperative Ejo Heza in order to increase the production of chilli peppers and meet the requirements of an international buyer that demands larger quantities of quality chilli peppers from Innocent and his fellow farmers.
A brighter future for chilli pepper farmers
After starting to cultivate chilli peppers on a larger scale at the beginning of 2022, Innocent was able to grow his business faster than before. As a result, he offered job opportunities to young people working on his farm and used the increase in income to help sustain his family’s livelihood.
"After joining Ejo Heza cooperative, we gained a lot."
"After joining Ejo Heza cooperative, we gained a lot.", says Innocent. "I have a good house now, which I completed thanks to cultivating and selling chill peppers. My family now lives in good conditions. I can easily pay the school fees for my children and I can say that I live a decent life now.”
Like Innocent, many of the cooperative’s members have created permanent jobs for youth who work on their farms. The community sees their businesses grow, many now have access to community-based health insurance and send their children to decent schools thanks to the increase in income. While Innocent is grateful for the higher income he already received after becoming part of the cooperative to improve his life, he now has a vision to further “increase productivity, grow our market, and provide enough job opportunities to others and youth particularly”.