Rwandan agrodealer’s shop may still be small, but her ideas are big

By Alice Marks

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Odette Dusabuwera in her agrodealer shop

The inability to access inputs is often cited as a major barrier to increasing the productivity of farms and improving the livelihoods of rural farmers. One Acre Fund (OAF), known as Tubura in Rwanda, has served more than 113,500 farmers since it started operations in the country in 2007, and now employs more than 1,400 staff members. One of their programs aims to tackle this barrier by working with agrodealers, providing them with credit for OAF seed and other inputs, such as much-needed fertiliser so that they can stock their shops with good quality products. OAF-supported agrodealers can expect to make US$2000-3000 per year in profit.

On a recent visit to Rwanda, OAF took us to meet Odette Dusabuwera, an agrodealer from Rubengera, in Western Rwanda, to find out how this approach was working for the agrodealers and farmers.

Odette has a small farm where she grows beans and maize and has a demonstration plot for her customers, to encourage them to buy fertiliser (which, she says, is her most profitable product). In addition, she has been running her agrodealer shop for 3 years. She originally borrowed a small amount of money from a bank, but it was not enough to rent the shop space as well as stock the shop with products. However, when she learned about the OAF agrodealer scheme, she saw the opportunity to achieve her ambition and launch her business. OAF allows her to obtain inputs for her shop on credit, paying just 40% of the cost upfront and repaying the rest at the end of the season. In the shop, she sells OAF seed and fertiliser alongside other inputs such as seeds for vegetables, her own bean varieties, inputs for livestock, and basic farm tools. Business is good – during season A (between September and January) she has more than 500 customers per week and during the B season (between February and June) around 100 per week. During other times, she still has about 40 customers per week, which is enough to keep the business ticking over.

Odette has seen a number of improvements in her life since she started working with OAF. She has more money for her family, and her younger children can attend secondary school. But she wants to go further – she tells us that she wants to expand the business and be able to buy more products that will attract more customers and make her a better profit. Eventually, she would like her shop to become a local distribution center – selling not just to farmers, but also to middlemen who could then sell on her products in more remote areas. Also, she’d like to be able to open a second shop, staffed by her adult children. When asked what is stopping her, she explains that sometimes she has to choose between putting her savings towards her family, including tuition fees and other expenses, or her business. It’s certainly not a lack of ambition holding Odette back, but access to more credit is needed to fulfill her goals.

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Verena Nyirabuhoro (left) is one of Odette’s customers

While we are talking to Odette, Verena Nyirabuhoro, a local farmer, visits the shop. Verena farms 2 hectares of land, some of which she owns but most of which is rented. It is the beginning of the B season when we meet, so she is buying mostly beans, some vegetable seeds, and some fertiliser. She tells us that last year she bought carrot and cabbage seeds, primarily for household consumption, but also to sell on local markets. These vegetables made her some profit – from every 100 RWF (About US 10¢) worth of carrot seeds she made 2000 RWF (US$2.6) when she sold the carrots – but this year she’d like to try onions and beetroots to see if they make a better return on her investment. During the A season she buys mostly maize, which she grows mainly for profit. She sells it to a local maize-milling factory, where her husband works. She explains that she’d like to be able to rent more land to farm, to be able to grow more crops to sell for profit (she has heard garlic can be profitable!) but at the moment, she can’t afford to do so. However, she is glad that she can buy inputs such as the seeds and fertiliser locally – this allows her to produce more, gives her the option to make choices about what to grow and try out different crops, allowing her to make a small profit.

Both Odette and Verena are ambitious business women, keen to expand their businesses, willing to try new things and take risks. OAF’s work has visibly impacted the livelihoods of the agrodealers they work with and their customers, but more work is needed to make access to finance and loans a reality for all farmers and entrepreneurs, and help women farmers across the continent fulfill their ambitions.

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