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Re: Enabling rural cooperatives and producer organizations to thrive as sustainable business enterprises

Edward Mutandwa Mississippi State University, United States of America
Dear FSN Coordinator,
Thank you for this very interesting and relevant topic. Although cooperatives are often touted as a viable way of promoting agricultural and rural development, the debate about the “best bet” approach to improving rural livelihoods remains wide open on global forums. Rwanda provides a good example of how cooperatives can be used to stimulate rural transformation through coordinated action.
 In Rwanda, the government crafted the Vision 2020 policy document which is anchored on six pillars including the need to transform agriculture from subsistence orientation to commercial agriculture. The country is small with an estimated surface area of 26,338 km sq. Given land bottlenecks, all farmers in the country are usually encouraged to form cooperatives. It is because it will be easier to support farmers through coordinated actions.
Cooperatives are not only seen as vehicles of development but also means of reconciliation and promoting social cohesion after years of war. Thus they are important means of nation building. The basis of their formation largely depends on friendship and gravitation towards common objectives. Evidence from two studies we conducted with farmers in the Northern Province showed that farmers’ decision to join and participate in cooperatives depends on perceived social and economic benefits. 
In my view and experiences from the field, there are necessary conditions which are important for cooperatives to be successful. There is need for an effective policy environment and institutional framework. Although governments can play the major role, there is also need for public and private partnerships which will complement public policy actions in the sphere of agricultural production. Several tea producing cooperatives in the country are being supported through various PPP initiatives. In Rwanda, the Rwanda Cooperative Agency is responsible for coordinating all activities related to cooperatives. Support is critical but may not necessarily be financial. It is true that without the necessary support especially in the initial stages of formation, cooperatives may fail. Many members of cooperatives are poor rural farmers without the requisite agricultural knowledge, financial resources and assets for use in agricultural production. It is therefore logical to support them so as to build human and technical capacity. The government supports cooperatives through frequent trainings and meetings. Major constraints usually facing many cooperatives are related to management and governance issues.
To ensure that cooperatives are sustainable platforms of rural development, it is also important to ensure complementary policy actions. For example the government implements its programs of land use consolidation and crop intensification through them. The cooperative model used in Rwanda has seen quantum changes in agricultural productivity through coordinated support from the government thus leading to better livelihoods.
Edward Mutandwa,
RDA, Rwanda