On Friday November 04, 2016, SPARK, RICEM and AgriProFocus, organized a twofold event to celebrate official launch and graduation of Rwanda’s ﬁrst Agri BDS Network and Course at Kigali Serena Hotel, in Rwanda.
SPARK in partnership with RICEM undertook a one-year capacity building pilot programme to a limited number of agri BDS providers wishing to offer professional BDS services to agricultural cooperatives and agri SMEs, which for years had been characterized by lack of agri BDS providers in the field . The first intake of 35 professionals completed a 9- month programme course consisting of 6 months devoted to an intensive course of 5 modules and 3 months to a field-based mentorship. Upon the completion of the training, these professionals produced reports, developed business plans and tested their business cases, likely to be funded. During the graduation ceremony, 3 graduates who outperformed others in producing excellent business plans were awarded.
SPARK as well partnered with AgriProFocus to establish a structured legally recognized network of these Agri BDS providers. This first ever platform in Rwanda comes at the time when the country has embarked on transforming agriculture sector, the main economic activity for rural households and their main source of income, from subsistence to a commercial viable sector. The network is meant to fill gaps and support existing services that are demanded by agricultural cooperatives and agribusinesses in the country to achieve agricultural transformation and modernization. The network is also timely and useful for Rwanda currently seeking to use business driven approaches to meet current demand and food security needs in the country and to increase exports.
The theme for the event was " Unlocking the potential of agribusiness to make agri-entrepreneurial dreams come true!". Speakers at the function saluted the partnership between SPARK, RICEM and AgriProFocus in providing the Course and establishing the Network. They emphasized the importance of strengthening the environment of Cooperatives and Agri Businesses by providing them with Business Development Services of high quality. In his opening remarks, Mr Pieter Dorst, Head of Development Cooperation at the Dutch Embassy in Rwanda, commended the creation and importance of Agri BDS Course and the services to be provided by Agri BDS professional network. He highlighted that the provision of such services is worth paying to ensure sustainability. He said, "With this project we have planted a seed in private sector development. Now it’s key that we nurture this seed. This seed can be damaged very easily for example by well willing organizations providing these services for free".
The representative of the graduates expressed satisfaction and gratitude for the skills acquired and pledged the Network commitment to boost agri BDS in Rwanda. He said, "Members of the Network are professional service providers in all segments of Agriculture Value Chains and we are here to strengthen service provision in Rwanda’s Agriculture Sector". While giving the key note address at the event, the Guest of Honour, Mr Nathan Gashayija, the Director General in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and East African Affairs, in charge of East African Affairs congratulated the graduates, expressed gratitude to the project partners and pledged the support of Rwandan Government to the Agri BDS Network. He officially recognized the Course provided and the Network established. He encouraged members of this network to champion locally value-added grown and/or made products both in Rwanda and in the region. He encouraged graduates to get legal status first, start initiating MoUs with similar networks in the EAC where they can easily sell their products through regional integration protocols.
The organizers of this event included SPARK, RICEM and AgriProFocus. SPARK is implementing the Cooperative Support Programme (CSP), funded by the Dutch Embassy. In this regard, SPARK carried out a contextual analysis and capacity assessment of agri BDS providers. RICEM developed Rwanda’s first agri BDS curriculum and provided training to Agri BDS providers and AgriProFocus assisted in setting up their network.