Just three years ago the government was struggling to find a market for the maize and soy crops produced by small-holder farmers, but it now faces a new issue, explains the Director General, as AIF is currently consuming about 30,000 metric tons of maize a year. "Our next issue is developing a strategy to ensure the raw materials continue to remain available to them. We need to put a system in place to mitigate drought impact and resilience against climate change, and irrigation systems are a big part of this." Cooperatives play a vital role in drought preparedness, Iyamuremye says. "Well-managed cooperatives can make a difference, not only in the lives of individual farmers. They also help the government obtain its goal of increasing agricultural GDP. The cooperatives have a successful 'teach my neighbor' approach."
Elia Habimana, Cooperative Chairman of the Rulindo district, applied for this voluntary position to help fellow farmers actively exchange knowledge. He is respected and viewed as a role model by his peers, explains Cooperative Manager Hakizimana. "It is a lot of work to be the Chairman, but I want to support my government with the sustainable development of farming," Habimana says. "We farmers have learned from the challenge of drought, we are elevating the quality of our harvests, and we are improving our yields. We have benefited 100% from our partnership with AIF."
The investment into the cooperatives has a greater purpose than meeting AIF's production goals, the company's CEO explains. "Worldwide, 80% of farmers are smallholders, and they produce over 80% of the food consumed in the developing world. They have an essential role to play in food security, and with this in mind, we are facing a big problem.
Young people today don't want to take over the smallholder farms of their parents," says Ali. "This has a lot to do with the fact that these farms just haven't paid off in the past. We are trying to solve this because it is part of a bigger picture. The population of Africa is projected to grow at about 100,000 people a day between now and 2050. They need food and jobs, and the world needs smallholder farmers to meet its nutrition needs. AIF can do its part by making rural livelihoods more sustainable."