In Rwanda’s Nyanza district, cooperatives run by women are pillars of the local economy. The women gather, exchange ideas, and discuss how to grow their small businesses.
In areas such as Nyanza, Musazane and Gisagara, the women band together to run businesses involved in mushroom, garlic, and red onion farming as well as maize production. The scene in Rwanda is not uncommon for towns all across Africa, where women’s cooperatives are supporting the livelihoods of many families.
Yet, for many cooperatives, they have limited or no access to agricultural inputs and markets.
To bridge this gap, ACBF is working on programmes to turn the innovative ideas that arise from these groups into sustainable businesses.
In Rwanda, six women's cooperatives have benefited from an ACBF grant supported by BADEA.
By using such start-up grants, the cooperatives can purchase farm inputs such as seed, pesticides and fertilizers. It is a model that is bringing solutions to the challenges many cooperatives face around Africa.
In 2020, the Foundation provided start-up grants to women's agricultural cooperatives in Liberia, Malawi, and Rwanda. In each of the countries, women groups were awarded start-up grants of up to US$5,000. With this capital, cooperatives can expand their collective agriculture ventures.
In Liberia, ACBF awarded seed grants to five women's cooperatives: the African Women Entrepreneurship Programme, the Kukatornor Women Association, the Vakala Women Empowerment and Livelihoods Support Programme, the Women Empowerment for Self-Employment, and the Yapugeanma Women Inc.
There has also been support to the women of Malawi, where five women's cooperatives have used ACBF’s support to start and grow businesses in rice milling, livestock farming, peanut butter production and crop farming.
However, it’s not just capital that these groups need. ACBF has also heavily invested in training these women entrepreneurs to manage businesses prior to them receiving the start-ip grants.
In Malawi, it was found that one of the biggest challenges for small businesses is human and institutional capacity. For these businesses to grow, there is need for support in meeting local registration regulations and complying with production standards. Many find the process of dealing with regulations difficult, and it can dampen their passion for business.
This is why ACBF continues to build capacity in women’s groups through practical interventions and technical skills support.
Entrepreneurship is not enough for these groups. They need to be involved in making policies that affect their livelihoods.
Through its work in Liberia, Malawi and Rwanda, the Foundation sees an increasing importance of leadership and entrepreneurship development programmes for women in agriculture and business. There is scope for further engagement in key focus areas such as skills development in planning, organizing, marketing, and financial management.
In working with various inspirational women’s groups, ACBF finds that there is no shortage of ideas among these cooperatives. However, what they need more than ever is support in the form of capital and skills, to turn those ideas into sustainable businesses.