Tools For Hope and the Twisungane Cooperative
The Twisungane group is a group of smallholder farmers living in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, Bugesera district, in the Ntarama sector. Twisungane, the name picked by the farmers for their group means the “Hard Workers”. This group was founded in 2012 by 7 members, all men, who tried to share agricultural activities. They combined their efforts to support their families.
In 2015 when Tools For Hope (TFH) started working with the group, group membership increased to include 10 men, 9 women and 34 children. The farmers recalled that before starting working with TFH, the Twisungane group could barely afford to survive, many of its members had no shelter and were totally dependent on vending locally made beer to earn a living.
Now there are 68 family members of which 15 are men, 13 women and 40 children. Of the 40 children 29 are in primary schools while the remaining 11 are still young but in 2 years they will be all in school.
Twisungane Cooperative Progress
TFH has improved the standard of living of the Twisungane members through its support of agricultural equipment and training. Working with the TFH mentor (Frank Mutesa) in Rwanda the Twisungane have managed to learn and implement much better agricultural, administrative, and business systems.
Below are some of the benefits;
- Irrigation equipment which help them in agriculture production, such that on 0.99 acres they used to get only 220 pounds of produce but after getting the irrigation equipment and the technical support from TFH, they are over getting 2 tons of produce. The diesel pump and the pipes for irrigation are still in service and are very important in increasing their agriculture yields.
- They can now afford to keep their children in school and can afford to buy the necessary school materials. The number of children attending school has increased to 100% in 2018.
- They can afford to pay for health insurance. Previously only 4 families were able to pay for this service. Now in 2018, all members of Twisungane can pay for health care for their family members.
- Through the training conducted by TFH staff, now all the families have opened bank accounts for the group and their individual accounts. And 3 of them have already gotten loans to buy pigs and goats.
- Families are now able to cultivate and harvest vegetables even in their home gardens. This was made possible through training and support from the TFH agronomist, who encouraged and helped the farmers to plant what locally are called call kitchen gardens.
- TFH staff have also obtained for the farmers cassava seeds (from the Rwanda Agriculture Board) which they have now planted in their individual farms. Usually in their village each family / house has at least 4 trees of cassava planted, but the cassava trees they had were destroyed by diseases and they needed a new variety. Therefore, we negotiated with Rwanda Agriculture Board and managed to get the farmers the new cassava variety. This has also helped stabilize their food supply and peels from the cassava can easily be processed into high quality live-stock feed.
- Farmers have benefited from TFH training on how to record their activities. They are now able to calculate their assets and their profits, simply by calculating and recording every planned activity in a book and keeping track of all records and each activity. And in doing so they have adapted the culture of sitting down and planning together what they are going to plant and calculating all necessary costs for each agricultural activity from preparing the land, ploughing, planting, fertilization, irrigation activities, weeding, spraying of pesticides, harvesting, and storage up to transportation of the yield to the market.
- Now the farmers know when to use pesticide before it is too late. As this used to happen and they would lose all the production as a result of poor knowledge about pests and pesticides.
- Twisungane cooperative members are now respected in the community and the local leaders are highly praising them and promoting them to other villagers and encouraging them to keep on and encouraging other community members to join and work in similar groups.
Basic Utility Vehicle (BUV) Issue
Getting the basic utility vehicle (BUV) which we purchased from the (Institute for Affordable Transportation backed) manufacturer in Tanzania out to the farmers, without paying the normal taxes on imported vehicles, was our top priority in 2018. This took a long time and quite a bit of work with various Rwandan governmental agencies. Tools For Hope (TFH) wanted to get the BUV imported into Rwanda and then out to the farmers in the most economical way possible. Without tax exemptions the price of the BUV would have doubled from $5,000.00 to approximately $10,000.00.
This BUV was a new import ‘machine’ in Rwanda which meant the government officials were not acquainted with it. Therefore, the first step was to explain to the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) about the vehicle. We worked with the MINAGRI explaining to them how the BUV would work for the farmers and convincing them to recommend us to the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) /Customs services. This was very difficult as there is list of tools that can be exempted and our BUV was not on that list, originally.
Finally, on the 15th of May 2018 the RRA accepted our request and granted us the VAT exception that we requested. Our hope was that the BUV would add income to the farmers by performing multiple tasks. We believed that this BUV would be able to operate in their rural environment and improve the lifestyle of the farmers.
The farmers began trying to use the BUV for their agriculture transportation and to transport other goods from the market to their villages, as well as transporting water from the river for different uses. Unfortunately, the design of this BUV was challenged by the mountainous topography of this area. This BUV, based on our research on the ground, was designed and manufactured to work on flat terrain (e.g., it has no gears).
Given the vehicle’s limited performance, the farmers did not believe they could generate enough income to pay back a $5,000 loan in 5 years and keep up with maintenance. Frank became very familiar with the problems associated with this BUV because he was the one who was training the farmers to use it. This area is more suitable for a BUV that has gears and especially a reverse gear which are missing on this current BUV.
Twisungane farmers have requested a BUV replacement which is suited to their terrain. The farmers have identified a BUV which is assembled in Rwanda and which costs $3,200. This BUV is now operating near their area, it can withstand the rough mountainous terrain, and it has all the power and gearing it needs for their tasks. They have told TFH this one can meet their needs and they would be able to repay the loan in three years. With the help of this BUV we believe the farmers will be able to get what they need from and to the market, which is very difficult without motorized transportation. The issue is still under investigation.
Twisungane – Formal Organization, Administration, and Decision-Making
The Twisungane group now has an elected leadership. They have a president, a vice president, a secretary, and an accountant (cashier).
The president (Samuel UWAMBAJIMANA,) oversees all the activities of the group and meets with Frank Mutesa from Tools For Hope (TFH), helps in partnering with other organizations whether governmental or non-governmental for the wellbeing of the group. He is charged with calling the group meetings which he chairs.
The Vice president (Venust KAMANAYO) is the advisor to the president and performs the role of president when Samuel is not present. The Twisungane group management meeting is twice each agricultural season and more when it is necessary.
The secretary (Claudine NYIRANDIMUBANZI) oversees recording all the important issues in the group’s record book and oversees informing the group members of all necessary information that comes from the group meetings and sees to it that all the effective agendas and schedules are known to the group members.
The accountant/cashier (Celestin GASENDWA) oversees the cash flow and looks for customers for the group’s harvests. She is also in charge of counting the profits and clarifying how the group members will share equally. Celestin is also in charge of collecting member contributions when they have decided a certain activity needs money, for example recently they wanted to buy some good quality irrigation pipes to replace the ones that had worn out. After the general meeting, they decided to raise 75,000 Rwandan francs to buy the pipes. Celestin collected the money from members.
Twisungane – Proposed Future Projects
For 2019, the Twisungane farmers have requested that TFH focus more on assisting them with projects and small businesses. TFH is working with the farmers to help them prioritize their proposed projects and to develop basic business plans for each.
Below are some proposed 2019 projects;
- Buying a used motorbike for transportation purposes. Good, used motorbikes are available in the cities, for between $700- $1200. This area is mountainous, and the roads are very rough and steep. This type of transportation is an effective way of transportation and is used by many. If TFH loans them $1000 for a motorbike, they will be able to pay-back the money in less than 10 months.
- Another high profit project is the goat herd project. This project can help start a business of selling goats and manure. Goats are easy to keep, and they need between $500-$1000 to start this project.
- Poultry keeping is another project that farmers are thinking of. The budget is approximately $1000 for startup. They would be selling eggs and older chickens for meat.
- There is a plan to teach our group members how to sew and make clothes. This is an important business and is very much needed almost everywhere. They are planning to give their members few basic skills trainings for less than 3 months and after that buy 3 sewing machines. The project is expected to need $1000 to start.
- Another project is a computer services business. Now in Rwanda many governmental services require an internet connection. For example, if community members want to pay bills for government services, e.g., taxes, obtaining certificates such as marriage certificates etc., they need to connect to the internet on the IREMBO services. Currently, village people need to walk for almost 6+ miles when they need these services. Twisungane can have one or two young men in their group trained on this solution and provide a desktop, printer and photocopy machine to start this project in their village/community. The budget is expected to be $1500 to purchase the equipment and rent a place from which to work.
- Pig raising is a project they are also considering. This will be for selling meat and manure as well. They may need less $1000 to start with just a few pigs.
- There are many other business proposals that may require $500- $1000, under consideration, e.g., a butcher shop, selling fruits, starting a grocery store, etc.
Twisungane farmers are now doing great, in fact we have received many requests from other farmers who need to join this group or begin new groups. Other local farmers are now waiting for proposed TFH plans so that they can know how to go about recruiting other members and partnering with other business people. Currently the Twisungane group is looking for partnerships with some business people in order to learn some business and market practices. This will help them in establishing the projects that would boost more their standard of living. TFH is willing to help them in linking with these business people and to help them in management of the project(s) and funding some of the proposed projects.