Valentine is a Food Entrepreneurship Fellow from Rwanda working at the intersection of data and agriculture. In this illuminating interview, she tells us about her work building the capacity of agriculture cooperatives to cope with current challenges and build resilience.
Who is Valentine the food systems leader?
I am a Food Entrepreneurship Fellow from Rwanda with a background in Agricultural Economics, Agribusiness and International Development. My passion is in data and agriculture - I am working to enhance the use of evidence in designing sustainable food systems in Africa.
Tell us about your work at Land O’Lakes. What does a typical day look like?
I work at Land O’Lakes Venture37 as the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist for CD4, a five-year program that supports farmers’ cooperatives. We create an enabling environment for cooperatives and help them improve their business performances and attract more members. We work with cooperatives in three value chains: dairy, horticulture and maize.
As an MEL specialist, I support both Rwanda and Malawi. I specialize in developing, coordinating and implementing institutional MEL activities, as well as sharing data with others to facilitate adaptive management and learning. I interact a lot with cooperatives members on different aspects of their activities and contribute to evidence based decisions making.
We have just come off the peak of a global pandemic. How is this affecting MEL trends you’re seeing in relation to cooperative development?
The global pandemic has highly affected the performance of cooperatives. In 2020, we carried out a study on the impact of covid 19 on agricultural cooperatives and found that 94% of cooperatives surveyed reported severe reductions in operations, revenue generation and household income.
We had hoped that in time cooperatives would resume full operations and had set targets to increase their revenues, linkages with more markets and production volumes. But looking at the current situation, the recovery has not been as good as expected. Other than the pandemic, our members are now grappling with the fact that the cost of inputs cost has shot up which has increased their cost of operations and reduced their profit.
What is the impact of this diminished cooperatives capacity on food systems as a whole?
Cooperatives are essential to the development of strong food systems, so their disruptions greatly impact food systems in general. The effects are felt right from the household level where members’ incomes are reduced, to national level where the country’s GDP is affected. Food security is threatened. This is why it is so important for food systems actors to support cooperatives during these challenging times.
You do a lot of advocacy work for cooperatives. In a few words, what would you say are the top 3 needs of cooperatives right now?
- technical support to increase their business performance.
- market linkages and post-harvest management capacity and expertise. For example, horticulture cooperatives struggle with storage facilities to meet market demand.
- Access to Finance.
You have been a Fellow at the African Food Fellowship for six months now. Why should other young African food systems leaders apply to join the Fellowship?
This has been great opportunity for me. It has helped me to see the big picture of food systems transformation and the role each actor can play for systemic changes. It is an interactive program. Apply to join the African Food Fellowship because you will be connected to different food systems leaders from different corners of the world. You will gain deep analytical knowledge of your country’s food systems, enabling you to address current problems and plan for the future.