Sugar cane farmers in Rwanda now organise themselves better and partnered with a sugar factory – gaining a bigger share in the sugar business and boosting the sector in doing so. Knowledge on multi-stakeholder partnerships and the bottom-up and inclusive approach of Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation helped to make this change, says Jean Marie Ntakirutimana from Rwanda.
"Farmers could call me in the middle of the night when they needed to talk about an urgent issue. In such cases I said 'yes my boss' and went to see how I can help." Saying this is Jean Marie Ntakirutimana, who advised the sugar cane farmers in the Nyabarongo and Akagera valley, Rwanda, on a day-to-day basis in the past four years as part of the project 'Sugar: make it work', supported by Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation. This example shows how this project is designed and managed in a bottom-up manner.
The project follows an inclusive approach, which means that about 3000 small-scale farmers are included in project design and activities. In fact, key to success of the project is to engage fully with farmers, says Ntakirutimana. "You need to be equal with the farmers and to become friends with them to really be able to help."
The project 'Sugar: make it work' ran between 2014 and 2018 and is a public-private partnership consisting of sugar cane farmers, the sugar factory Kabuye Sugar Works and the Rwandan government, financed by the sugar factory and the Dutch government, with 4 million euros each. Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation supports the organisation of farmers in farmer cooperatives and water management organisations, supported with agricultural advice, and helped develop sector cooperation. Apart from that, the project mainly dealt with improving the drainage of the swamp, which greatly reduced the risk of crop losses and increased the available acreage for both the sugar cane plantation of the factory and the 3000 farmers that deliver 60% of cane to the factory.
Yields and incomes of farmers improved, among others because some farmers got access to a loan to buy their own truck, through one of the new farmer cooperatives. "Farmers gained self-confidence and took much more responsibility", Ntakirutimana says. "Previously, the farmers were scattered and didn't cooperate with each other, or with other stakeholders. Now they have quarterly stakeholder meetings with the sugar factory and local authorities to discuss issues related to the sugar sector."
The expertise of Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation on how to cooperate with different partners and make partnerships that work, greatly helped in this case, Ntakirutimana says. "It is important that farmers really own the project. As an advisor, you have to put yourself into the shoes of farmers." Ntakirutimana spent most of his time in the field. That is a different approach than some other development projects, he says. Rwanda has a history of development projects, and that means that sometimes farmers are used to receiving benefits without really taking responsibility, and employees of NGOs who feel that they stand above farmers, and mainly deal with writing reports in the office.
Ted Schrader, overall project coordinator of Sugar make it work, and advisor Judith Jacobs (both from Wageningen Centre from Development Innovation) regularly visited Rwanda to discuss issues with Ntakirutimana and with the farmers. "Our cooperation was very good", Ntakirutimana says. The inclusive approach of the project was formed during these joint discussions. Moreover, the foundation was laid during the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation-course 'Organised farmers as partners in agribusiness' which Ntakirutimana followed shortly after he joined the project. "Frankly speaking each and every topic taught during that course was definitely related to my daily working activities. Issues like cooperatives-farmer's business organizations, farmer-firm relations, farmers accessing finance as well as collective action in farmer organizations are the most applied in my daily work when I came back. This has significantly contributed to my personal career development."