Rwanda registered its first case of COVID-19 on 14 March 2020 and implemented a strict lock-down, including closure of schools across the country. The lock-down was especially hard for Rwandans working in the informal sector and has severely impacted their food security.
For Zainabo Uwizeyimana, president of Kabiyaki farm cooperative and her members, supporting fellow community members impacted by the COVID-19 lock-down with food assistance was a natural inclination. The idea came about when members were harvesting maize produced by the WFP-supported cooperative located in southern Rwanda.
“During this year’s harvest we produced a surplus of maize. All members collectively decided to set aside one kilo each to give back to the community during these difficult times,” Zainabo recalls.
Neighbouring cooperative, Tuzamurane-Cyeza had a similar idea. The two-smallholder farmer organisations voluntarily donated nearly one metric tonne of maize produced by the cooperatives, along with other assorted food commodities to nearly 200 people from 42 families impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown. Each family received a food package containing 20 kilos of maize, 5 kilos rice, 2 kilos nutritious porridge for young children and one litre of vegetable oil, in addition to a bar of soap.
The food assistance was a welcome relief during a period when many were left out of work, due to measures put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19. For Mohammed and his wife Sarah, the assistance helped feed their family of seven for a month, during a time when both had lost their jobs.
“We are so grateful for the generosity of the Kabiyaki farmer cooperative for this support,” said Mohammed, a 40-year-old bus driver, who lost his job when his bus company operating between Northern Rwanda and the capital city of Kigali was forced to stop operating due COVID-19 preventive measures that stopped travel between provinces.
His wife Sarah also lost her job as a teacher at a local private school when all schools in Rwanda were closed in March.
“We both hope the situation soon improves, and things can go back towards normal,” Mohammed added.
WFP’s support to smallholder farmers in Rwanda through the Farm to Market Alliance
Kabiyaki and Tuzamurane-Cyeza are two of 207 farmer cooperatives receiving support from WFP through the Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), reaching over 70,000 smallholder farmer cooperative members in rural communities throughout Rwanda.
With the support of WFP cooperatives receive support on good farming practices to enhance crop quality and quantity and how to reduce crop loss after harvest. WFP also links cooperatives to formal financial services and agricultural techniques that allows them to scale-up and enhance their production. Once crops are harvested, cooperatives are linked directly to Rwandan private sector companies to sell their quality harvests at premium market prices.
During the current season, FtMA-supported cooperatives such as Kabiyaki and Tuzamurane- Cyeza have been able to earn substantial premiums on their surplus maize due to its superior quality.
“Before this initiative started, both buyers and agro-processors would complain about the quality of produce received from farmers. During this season, they are offering up to 26% price premiums for maize produced from FtMA-supported cooperatives. This highlights the significant improvements farmers have made in their processes, and means more money directly into farmers’ pockets,” said Ammar Kawash, WFP Rwanda’s Head of Smallholder Agricultural Market Support.
Kabiyaki and Tuzamurane-Cyeza cooperatives both began receiving support from WFP in 2016. Kabiyaki has been able to increase harvests from 1–1.5 metric tons per hectare in 2016 to 3.5–4.5 in 2020. Similarly, Tuzamurane has increased harvests from 1–1.2 metric tons per hectare in 2016 to 3.7 in 2020.
The food assistance provided by these two cooperatives during a period of heightened vulnerability was also appreciated by the local government.
“We are impressed by the work of Kabiyaki cooperative to support their fellow citizens impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We realize that the cooperative’s surplus gave them the resilience needed to have the capacity to support others in need during this period,” said Florence Mukandayisenga of Nkingo cell community development.
FtMA is a global initiative committed to empower over 1.5 million farmers by the year 2022, using a comprehensive value chain approach. The alliance was formed to make crop markets work better for smallholder farmers by linking them to local and regional markets.