Cola, Dried apricot, Grains of paradise
alt: 1600-2000 MASL
region: South Kivu
Founded in 2009, Muungano coop comprises around 4,400 smallholder farmers, nearly half of whom are women. Gender justice is a principal focus of the members, as is integrating farmers from different ethnic groups into the operation. " Muungano " means “Togetherness” in the Swahili language.
Muungano Cooperative has 16 sectors with a cherry collection site and three washing stations—Kinieziere, Buchiro, and Nyabirehe. Located over three hours south of Goma, on a questionable dirt road on the Western shore of Lake Kivu. The closest town is Minova; the road infrastructure disintegrates in this area with high levels of rainfall and deforestation within DR Congo, and landslides are common. the muddy roads allow transportation by Moto, bicycles, and pedestrians, leaving the members the coop to use bout to deliver their harvest to one of the sites or to washing stations The cooperative pays for the transport of members who live very far away since members can live up to 40 km away from the cherry collection station. The cooperative is looking to build a fourth washing station to meet the needs of its growing membership, shortening the distance some producers need to travel to deliver cherry, and is also hoping to increase the number of drying tables.
The unstable road infrastructure froze the washing stations to load an entire container’s worth of parchment onto two separate boats as they prepared for the day-long voyage to the dry mill in Goma.
Muungano is continuously working on training the farmer on best agricultural practices and the impact that they have on the quality still, old habits die hard, and Muungano is working diligently to mitigate the common local agricultural practice of “weeding” the soil around the coffee trees. This exposes and thus kills microorganisms in the soil. Julie, one of Muungano's 16 agronomists, shared that some producers didn’t believe her when she told them that planting ground crops, composting, mulching, careful pruning, and avoiding turning the soil would improve yields. A young producer herself, she purchased a small plot near one of the washing stations to demonstrate. Other producers started following suit once they saw with their own eyes how healthy her trees were.
The Women Group
Nearly half of Muungano’s members are women, and they deliver cherry to the washing stations two days a week, which is how they separate the lots. To become a part of any sector's women's group, each of which has a leadership team, a woman has to be a member of Muungano, own land or have 100% responsibility for the land, and deliver cherry to the washing station.
In early 2017, the women wanted to figure out what to do with their quality premium, so Pascasie visited and had a two-day governance/leadership training with the women. They had a lot of ideas, but the one they decided would benefit the most women would be to do a goat program. She returned seven months later (after the first round of goats reproducing) to see which sectors were successful, which so-so, which not, and why.
Each sector organized its program slightly differently, but the sector we visited, Vomo, has 84 women and was able to purchase 13 goats, so we divided membership into 13 groups of 6-7 women. One woman in each group got a goat, and when the goat had a baby kid, the woman with the next-most cherry delivery got her goat. They started with 13 goats and now have 23 goats. It's slow-going, but within a couple more years, all their members should have a goat. They don't use goat milk, but they can sell it when the female goats have kids. Goat meat is very popular in Congo, and goats have very little to raise as they will eat anything!
Some women said that before Muungano, they wouldn't hurry to deliver their cherry, they would sell to anyone, they would get paid barely anything, and they didn't know about good agricultural practices. Now they have access to finance, prune their trees, pick ripe cherry, compost, and are really invested in quality.
Each sector also has a micro-finance program, where groups of around 10-12 people each contribute at least 1,000 francs/week (~65 USC), and then when they need a larger amount do to a larger or unexpected expense, can withdraw.
Through workshops on GALS (gender action learning system) and using ‘train the trainer sessions, Muungano members can teach each other how to use GALS’ many tools for long-term planning and resource management. The beauty of GALS is that, aside from the training, a pencil and paper, and personal dedication, the system requires no outside ‘inputs.’ It's sustainable and easy to learn. The biggest hurdle is changing a mindset about what you can accomplish and how to plan for the future when hand-to-mouth is the norm and often the reality. We listened to a presentation about how to draw a vision journey-- draw a picture of your goal and your current system, your opportunities, threats, and how you will go through each step, month by month, to achieve your goal. Various members shouted their comments and showed us their personal vision journeys about going from a thatched-roof house to a corrugated-metal-roof house. It was abundantly clear that GALS had impacted their lives meaningfully and were not just an idea.