Supporting Natural Resources Management through Community Innovation Centres

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Supporting Natural Resources Management through Community Innovation Centres

©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Sagatare village, Kirehe district. Ramadhan Nziyonsenga, 6 children, is an innovator that has taken up several initiatives on his own including breeding improved maize seeds, storing them and selling to his neighbors. He also has installed a water harvesting pond to capture rain water and fashioned a home-built hand pump to move water out to his crops.

The Centre Communautaire d'Innovation (CCI) or Community Innovation Centres were first introduced in Rwanda to provide technical and organisational support to small farmers as part of a pilot project supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Support Project for the Strategic Plan for the Transformation of Agriculture (PAPSTA). The initiative became so successful that it was replicated and extended in 2010 under a new project, the Kirehe Community-based Watershed Management Project (KWAMP).Through the dissemination of information and skills among local communities, the CCIs facilitate the replication of agricultural innovations and the effective implementation of sustainable watershed management plans in the Kirehe District.

Before the centres opened, farmers in the District were living in relative isolation far away from the capital Kigali and with very limited means of communication within their own sector. Since the KWAMP project started, three of these Centres have opened. The CCI, which are already an innovation in themselves, introduced creative ways to help farmers get better organised.

Community competitions  facilitated by a committee known as Inteko y'Imihigo are one of the innovative practices implemented by the CCI. When a village or a community express a specific need in terms of natural resources management, they draft a written proposal, submit it to the CCI's office for pre-screening. After a phase of pre- screening and support from the Centre in drafting a sound management plan, a competition is organized to select the Natural Resources Management Plans (NRMPs) that best meet the community's collective interests. The plans presented are reviewed by an elected committee who decides on the award. Following such selection process, the awarded communities benefit from a grant to implement their plan.  The grants are  transferred to the village's dedicated bank account with a view of creating better interactions  between  the local population and the surrounding  micro-finance institutions. Furthermore, it is hoped that this model will encourage the development of an entrepreneurship culture at local level, whereby potential entrepreneurs come up with home grown solutions  using  banks' money to solve problems.
 
The Isangano village, located on a steep hill in  Nyamugali Sector sector of the Kirehe District, was one of the winners of such competition.  Because of its location, it was affected by serious erosion problems caused mainly by the deforestation of the area. After each alluvion, waste residues were going down causing damage to crops and even houses. The village committee led by Pascal Mudahungadecided to react, and with the support of their CCI, presented a plan with their solution to solve the problem, which included planting terraced hedges. The plan was selected as the winner of the competition and the village was awarded a prize of 1.7 million Rwandan francs (US$2,650).

"We put in place this system after we learnt about it through Procasur's Learning Route system. We wanted to support the communities in presenting a written plan with a structure to it, and be able to present it convincingly," explained Jean-Paul Kimazi, Manager of the Nyarubuye CCI."The idea is to empower them to present their own project, defend it and apply for funding," he added. "They have to be abler to convince a financial institution to support their project."To date, six competitions (two per CCI) were carried out with 34 successful natural resources management projects presented by the villages. Total Funds allocated amounted to 30,620,950 (US$47,845). Payment is usually made in three installments of 50-25-25%.  

Support to set up cooperatives

The work of the CCIs does not stop there. They also support farmers in forming cooperatives for a selected commodity or value chain and help them go through the administrative and legal process. In addition, they providetraining in management and accountancy. "We try to show farmers the benefit of working together in a group rather than in isolation," explained Kimazi. "Where there is an interest, we help them set up a cooperative and legally register it."

Beyond the cooperatives which have a commercial fonction in terms of agricultural value-chains, the Innovation Centres provide technological and information support to communities of farmers. The Centres are well equipped with a computer room and a library to teach farmers about ICT, internet use, as well as agricultural practices. The library has a number of technical publications available on modern agricutural techniques and best practices in local language. Explanatory drawings are included for illiterate farmers.
 
Furthermore, the CCIs are becoming social centres for farmers to gather and discuss problems. "We've recently subscribed to the main satellite channel DSTV, now farmers come to watch the news as well as football games," explained Kimazi.  " Before that, they had very little knowledge of international news, now they feel part of the world." He added that the subscription was paid for by the income generated from the sale of services at the Centre such as photocopying or renting out the main meeting room. His CCI is planning on more income-generating activities such as sub-contracting space for a local SACCO or bank to open a branch, as well as renting out the main room for wedding or other social events. "We need to maximise the use of our space and become self-sufficient in terms of income," he concluded.