Years of research has demonstrated the positive impact of cooperatives on community and household well-being. Benefits include, but are not limited to, increased employment, both on and off-farm, financial independence, and improved education.
Though all these benefits of joining cooperatives, the inclusion of women and youth still is an issue to be handled.
In partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Cooperative Development Program (CDP) implemented in Rwanda by Land O’Lakes International Development, the University of Lay Adventists of Kigali (UNILAK) has organized an international research symposium on cooperative development on May 22nd in Kigali.
In their research entitled “GOVERNANCE PRACTICES AND THEIR IMPACT ON THE INCLUSION OF YOUTH AND WOMEN IN RICE COOPERATIVES IN RWANDA”, the results demonstrated a weak participation of both women and youth in cooperatives.
“In our research carried in the Eastern province of Rwanda in rice cooperatives, the results showed that on a simple random sample of eleven thousand members of nine cooperatives visited only 29.2% are women, 9.4% are youth both male and female while 62.5% are men,” said Mr. Anastase Butera, a lecturer at UNILAK and one of the researcher.
“Behind this weak participation of women and youth in cooperatives is inflexibility in land acquisition for youth, poor mindset on the side of cooperative members regarding inclusion of youth, lack of self-confidence and the entrepreneurial spirit on the side of women”, said Mr. Musabye Jean Claude, the chairperson of the federation of rice farmers in Rwanda.
Participants in the symposium were urged to strive for the inclusion of both youth and women in all the activities as this inclusion has a myriad of economic and social benefits including the ability to broaden the scope of cooperative activities, improve social well-being through improved household income, improved food security, and improved health outcomes.
“Youth are a great asset for our country and especially for cooperatives, they are the future leaders, and have that greater capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship, they are more receptive to the new technologies and have higher skills and levels of education than older farmers,” said Dr. Gasingirwa Christine, the Director General for Science, Technology and Research in the Ministry of Education and who was also the guest of honor in the symposium.
The research highlighted that formal policies are present to support inclusion of women and youth, but implementation and enforcement vary across place.
“Rwanda Cooperative Agency , Universities, and other stakeholders, should work collaboratively to promote outreach on the inclusion issue and work with cooperative leadership and members to ensure proper implementation of the policies”, the researchers recommended.
Commenting on the research symposium and its importance, Dr Jean Ngamije, the Vice Chancellor at UNILAK said that the University is pleased to join hands with its partners Land O’Lakes International Development and the National Cooperatives Confederation of Rwanda (NCCR) in organizing the research symposium.
“This event will remain an important step in the developmental journey of UNILAK and our country at large,” said Dr Ngamije adding;
“that the results of this research symposium will bring more experience, knowledge and skills from researchers from different countries which will inspire the university to move forward.
LuAnn Werner, the Chief of Party/Programs Manager at Land O’ Lakes International Development, said that partnering with a local university on research to find out how cooperatives can improve the quality of life especially in rural areas of Rwanda will be very beneficial to the country and the region.
“Land O’Lakes is pleased to work with UNILAK to host an innovative Rwanda Cooperative Research Symposium. This initiative is bringing together researchers within Rwanda, and regionally, with a goal to support improved livelihoods through data driven findings, learning and dissemination.”
The one-day international symposium supported by USAID through Land O’Lakes CDP attracted over 130 delegates who included researchers from Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya. Dr. Anne Cafer of the University of Mississippi in the United States also attended and supported UNILAK in the conference preparations.