Kilwa Rice: How Women Agripreneurs in Kilwa Improved their Rice Value Chain Process
By Kakel Mbumb
After attending the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES) seminar on “Strengthening Business and Trade for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa” in Accra, Ghana in June 2019, I received an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State. Through the grant, my project partner, Sylvia Banda from Zambia, and I created a community-based project titled, “Rural Women Agripreneurs Network Implementation for Cross Border Collaboration and Trade Exchange Settlement between Congolese and Zambian Agripreneurs” with a focus on agripreneurs based in Kilwa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is located near the border of Zambia.
Rural women farmers of the Kilwa community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are ill-equipped to implement a proper working management system for their cooperatives. They almost entirely remain on subsistence agricultural practices and are unable to improve production cost and develop a sustainable value chain process for their rice, maize, and soybeans. In the past three years, rural women farmers of the Kilwa community experienced some loss on production, and surveys reported that this was due to an improper management system of production, harvest, transformation, and distribution as farmers are unable to upgrade their activities, stuck in a cycle of subsistence agriculture with limited skills affecting their results in the field. This even pushes some women farmers to give up investing in agriculture, leaving Agripreneurship in the DRC untapped.
The Rural Women Agripreneurs Network aimed to address all of these issues by equipping 40 rural Congolese women agripreneurs based in Kilwa with the necessary skills to expand and grow their business through educating them on the agriculture value chain process in the agribusiness management system. In collaboration with the training sessions, we planned to bring eight rural Zambian women agripreneurs to share their own experiences and build a network between the two agricultural communities and countries. In Zambia, the agricultural process is more developed and technically advanced in contrast to the DRC. Bringing these two groups together, provided the Congolese women with an opportunity to learn from the advanced organization in the agribusiness value chain process and cooperative management.
However, the visit from our Zambian neighbors was eventually impossible due to a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Project implementation grew even more difficult as people did not wish to travel to other cities and towns in the DRC for fear of being stuck in neighboring cities, and other official restrictions that did not allow many private meetings or gatherings. In addition to the pandemic, we faced another major challenge — internet shutdowns. Due to a reduction in economic activity in the city, the only internet service provider in the city closed down. Because of this, hosting online sessions with lecturers and trainers pushed us to brainstorm even more creative pathways to continue forward with the project.
Ultimately, we adapted to these changes by turning to online platforms. Like many others, we purchased laptops, projectors, paper, and stationery and moved our project to online learning. We rented rooms at local organizations where small groups of women could meet to take the online courses, and we also organized webinars with some lecturers to train participants on packaging and marketing strategies. When the internet was not available, we leaned heavily on our local partnerships such as the Youth National Forum (FNJ-RDC) to conduct workshops for our participants in small in-person groups. Through the Youth National Forum, we were able to access trainers in financial literacy, rural entrepreneurship, and support for the value chain process.
As the pandemic dragged on, there was an increase in demand for local food as imported goods became challenging to obtain because of the border restrictions. In response, the participants came together to use their new skills to produce an average of 18 tons of rice. With the help of transportation from the FNJ-RDC, they were able to bring their product, named “Kilwa Rice,” from Kilwa to Lubumbashi, the second-largest city in the DRC, for packaging and distribution. The participants contended with transportation challenges due to poor road quality in rural communities and limited agricultural production equipment. However, at the end of the project, 32 participants, so far, have organized themselves into cooperatives to efficiently produce and address the consumers’ needs and are currently, looking for partners to fund and provide them with rice production equipment, trucks, and compound/warehouse space for storage.
This project and experience challenged us at every turn and helped us to understand the importance of creative thinking and developing alternative ways for learning and cross-border collaboration. We thank everyone who helped us throughout this project and look forward to seeing how these dynamic women agripreneurs continue to transform their local communities.
Rural Women Agripreneurs Network Implementation for Cross Border Collaboration and Trade Exchange Settlement between Congolese and Zambian Agripreneurs is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.