Although there have been challenges, the cooperative has grown and has managed to provide members with many services that have radically changed their lives. During one of the FGD, we asked members to identify the main changes that happened in their lives since they joined the cooperative. They came up with a very long list:
- Decent housing, thanks to higher income and easier access to bank loans facilitated by the cooperative that works as a guarantee;
- Children’s education until university level thanks to small loans from the cooperative to pay children’s school fees, the coop shop to buy books and stationary; and easier access to bank loans to access university;
- Pension for members older than 70 years old paid by the cooperative fund;
- Medical insurance provided by the cooperative fund;
- Funeral services paid by the cooperative fund in case a member or any of their relatives pass away;
- Increased farming knowledge, thanks to training and technical advice provided by the cooperative;
- Feeling more empowered, thanks to collective power;
- Easier and stable access to market;
- Improved nutrition and food security, thanks to more knowledge about the balance diet thanks to cooperative training; higher income to buy diversified food; cattle and goat breeding;
- Access to electricity thanks to photovoltaic panels.
However, one could wonder how sustainable a process of development can be like this when it is dependent on one crop, especially when it is challenged by natural threats, climate change being the first. Could a cooperative like this be resilient? This has been the very first question James and Jean de Dieu asked themselves. Their vision was to build a sustainable business that could effectively meet members’ needs over time. But how to do it? The answer came by chance, when they made their first investment, building a hall to hold their meetings. The hall, that was the best in the district, was requested for renting, and after that, upon clients’ requests, the cooperative built also a restaurant and a hotel, recently awarded with two stars, as they proudly showed us.
Nowadays the cooperative generates a surplus of 40 million RWF out of rice production and another 60 million RWF out of the hotel. This is crucial as it not only means that the level of services assured to members is not affected in case of a bad harvest, but also that the cooperative can meet emerging needs. Other investments are under way, such as a project of poultry farming that aims first to provide each member with their own chicks (with an expected good impact on nutrition and on household income diversification) then to serve also the district, generating additional income for the cooperative.
Another interesting project is the foundation of a farming association composed of members’ kids who, after completing their studies, engage in fishing activities at the dam for their own income-generation. By the way, as we learnt, the dam is managed by a water user association that takes care of the dam’s maintenance and works hand in hand with the cooperative to serve the marshland the best it can.
Board and management alone agree none of these projects of investment. As was explained to us, for each investment there has been an internal process of discussion that led to project prioritization by members according to their needs.
When we asked the management what is their factor of success, they identified exactly this high commitment to be respondent to members’ needs, generating trust, transparency and accountability. This was frankly confirmed through the words of each member we met. Social and economic cohesion that was not there at the beginning of the story of this cooperative, as the genocide had disrupted whatever possible confidence among people there had been, was successfully rebuilt through the COPRORIZ-Ntende.