Agricultural cooperatives as strategy for rural development in Rwanda: a case study of COVEPAR.
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When agricultural cooperatives are very well organized and implemented with sufficient means and committed people, then they can help to achieve rural development. COVEPAR- Cooperative for Valorization and Exportation of Rwandan Agricultural Products- created by local people of Butare Province in October 2001, aimed to participate in the process of poverty reduction in rural areas by increasing the value and exportation of Rwandan products. The main hypothesis of the research was that COVEPAR allows for diversification of individual farmers' income and increases markets for the members. This study was undertaken in order to see the contribution of COVEPAR in achieving solutions for problems of agriculture in general and farmers in particular. Particularly, the focus was on its contribution in poverty reduction in Butare Province. The results of this research showed that in two years of activities (having started its activities in April 2003) COVEPAR has managed to introduce a new cash crop (chilli pepper) in Rwanda in general and in Butare in particular. Also, farmers who used to sell their production at local markets are now selling at international markets through COVEPAR. However, they are still complaining about the price at which COVEPAR buys their production. Cassava, an old food crop in Rwanda, is also one of the two products that COVEPAR is interested in. The experience of COVEPAR showed that it is also revenue generating at international market (European market). This is real when cassava is transformed into good quality cassava flour or starch. The research also showed that COVEPAR participates in agriculture intensification. It is the second source of modem inputs for its members not taking into consideration household residues. It also sensitises its members to use modem inputs and agricultural techniques through PEARL Project agronomists, one of its main supporter projects. About the addition of value, COVEPAR processed cassava roots into cassava flour and obtained 12 tons that in turn were sold on the European market. However, this cassava had not come from associations. COVEPAR had bought it at short notice from any producer who was selling, because it was an urgent situation of exploring the European market's response to their product. Fortunately, the European buyers approved the product and guaranteed the market. At present, COVEPAR is constructing a modern transformation unit that will help to obtain good quality cassava flour, ready for export, in Butare Province. It is also in the stage of sensitising its members to cultivate improved seedlings of cassava in order to obtain high production. So, as the market is already identified, the additional value process will continue. In future production the focus will be mainly on cassava roots obtained from its members. For chilli pepper, COVEPAR sells a non-finished product. The chilli pepper is only put it into packages after it is thoroughly dried and sorted. However, members of the chilli pepper associations have improved their lives more than that of the cassava associations. Apart from buying food and clothes like cassava associations, they have also covered other important needs like buying livestock, bicycles, new farms, new house, etc. COVEPAR has also contributed to job creation in Butare Province. Although the achievements have been many in the relatively short period of two years, COVEPAR is also facing many problems. It is inadequately organized with some very important institutions such as general assembly, board of management and auditors still being absent from its managerial structure. Also, it has lack of financial capital that puts it in the unfortunate situation of bringing about misunderstanding with members because of delays in payments. The other problems are poor communication and collaboration with members. In addition, COVEPAR works with a lot of associations that are more than its financial and technical means can afford. Therefore, if these shortcomings are not corrected as soon as possible, COVEPAR objectives will not be reached and it will inevitably share the same fate as other cooperatives that have existed and failed in Rwanda.