During May 2021 Frank Mutesa (Tools for Hope, Inc Rwandan mentor) worked with the Twisungane Cooperative farmers in three primary areas. They included livestock management, water catchment techniques for their farms in advance of the upcoming seasonal drought period, and the cooperative’s requests for funding from TFH for income producing projects.
The Twisungane group is being challenged to learn the basics of business plan development. Tools for Hope encourages development of sustainable, self-sufficient, income producing projects by the farmers. The farmers need such projects because their small farms cannot be enlarged and as such cannot produce adequate incomes for a suitable lifestyle.
Training Farmers to Take Care of Their Livestock
Feeding livestock based on nutrient needs.
With help from veterinarians and agronomists, farmers can get aid in evaluating their forage for its nutrient content. Frank encourages the farmers to adapt best forage varieties. Frank contacted the Rwandan Agricultural Board’s livestock department for help on different feeding varieties that can help our farmers. By knowing the nutrient requirements of their livestock, they may be able to prevent overfeeding.
One goal of such a strategy is to help our Rwandan farmers do their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions e.g., methane.
Water Catchment in Preparation for Drought Season
We are approaching the drought period. In late May the farmers began harvesting their crops and preparing to enter Season C which is known for its extended period of drought. Few farmers cultivate in this season. With good techniques the Twisungane farmers will be able to raise some crops during season C.
Some land use management techniques that Frank highlighted to the farmers included the following.
- The use of conservation agriculture or the no-till farming system. This simply means, leaving the crop residues on the field after harvesting and with minimum tillage when sowing. We have done research on this no till farming and farmers are now encouraged to use the method during drought season.
- Farmers were also encouraged to use methods such as mulching and other farming techniques like furrow and ridges. Also, farmers were encouraged to keep the rainwater through different water reservoirs they can afford, like digging holes for keeping runoff water, and catching water from their house tops/roofs.
- Another choice is to use native crops varieties or drought tolerant crop varieties. This depends on the water requirement of the crop and linking them with weather and climate forecasting info from meteorology agency (METEO- Rwanda) which gives this information each season. Farmers can use the PICSA approach to plan for seasonal agriculture activities.
- Fallow periods leave the land without any disturbance and allow the weeds to grow and give the land a chance to regenerate. Cultivation can begin in the next season.
Above is the illustration used to show farmers the furrow and ridges technique they may use to store water to be used by their crops.
Twisungane Proposed Projects and their Progress on Business Plan Development
With Frank’s help the Twisungane have named three projects that they would like Tools for Hope (TFH) to fund. The projects and associated funding request are:
- Motorcycle / transportation business: $ 2,800.00 (for purchase of a second motorcycle taxi)
- Pigs’ business: $ 1,250.00 (5 pigs, each will cost $ 250)
- Sewing clothes business: $ 1,500.00 (For 3 sewing machines plus other starter tools)
They are requesting 100% funding at no interest and no ‘recourse.’ TFH is willing to loan the funds on such terms provided that each project is described properly in a basic business plan. (e.g., project description, market analysis, competitive landscape, operating structure, sales strategies, financial health and future)
Our requirement for project business plans is based in the following reasoning. Long-term, such lenient loan terms as offered by TFH would undermine local lenders i.e., commercial lenders cannot compete with ‘free money.’ By undermining local lenders TFH undermines the Twisungane cooperative’s ability to secure future loans locally thus breeding long-term reliance on charity. By developing the knowledge and skills they need to create a project business plan that is a practical ‘roadmap to success’ the cooperative members help to ensure their future ability to get project funding on their own i.e., independent of TFH. This is a core value and guiding principle of Tools for Hope, Inc.
The Way Forward
Things are now getting back to normal, and farmers are now busy looking into how best to support their families. Their children are back to school as usual. There are still challenges on how they can work with banks because some of them have no collateral.
The issue of business planning is an important one. Early on when TFH began working the Twisungane group most people had little or no hope of a future. This worsened their poverty because it encouraged them to spend any extra money at once on ‘goodies.’ A common saying among them was “tomorrow is for tomorrow’s people” meaning that they primarily focused on living for today. This has changed and continues to change. They are learning to plan for a better future for themselves and their children. Given the low level of literacy among the group, it is a difficult challenge for them culturally, economically, socially, and technically.
Thank you for your help!