Insights into Rwandan NPO, SACOLA: How Can We Do Better for Local Communities

AgriEnvCoder
9 min readNov 10, 2022

Next week is my last week in Rwanda. I am heading to Uganda to open a new page of my life. If this is your first time visit my blog, it would be better to read the previous articles:

  1. Walk into Netflix Documentary — Virguna National Park, Rwanda
  2. Strategies Under the Scope of Environmental Economics — Virguna National Park, Rwanda
  3. How Local Communities are benefited from EocTourism and Turn Money into Real Value

“Revenons à nos moutons!” In my period of volunteering, I participated some events and also worked behind the screen, trying to understand SACOLA and nudging the organisation to a right direction. In this article, I am going to list some room for improvement and what I have achieved during my service.

Project Management

SACOLA contains multiple projects across different domains, such as construction, agriculture, ICT, etc… Bizarrely, 10+ projects are holding indicate that SACOLA has the sufficient budget to support wide range of community work. However, there is only one permanent worker in SACOLA as an accountant. Other members in SACOLA have their full-time project and only participate the board meetings.

The first few weeks, I asked for visiting all of the projects on the ground, but I turned out only visiting four projects. The reason is SACOLA lacks of human resource. Although there are some local volunteers willing to help me, volunteers are volunteer after all. No payment from SACOLA, only aspiration to help local communities create little motivation to work hard. In addition, SAOCLA does not provide transportation and communication allowance for these volunteers. They are in a rather poor standard of living compared with the western world let alone need to spend money to work for an organisation.

In tackling this issue, I proposed two methods. One is create a local position of project manager and the other is create a project-based volunteering programme. The main purpose is MAKE SOMEONE TO LOOK AFTER AND UPDATE SACOLA PROJECTS.

Project-based volunteering programme

The programme is inspired by United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, which creates some high selected opportunities for people around the world. Even on YouTube, so many experiencer share some tips of how to be shortlisted, or how to get the position.

In UNV programme, the position posted articulates

General:

  1. Description of assignment title
  2. Assignment country
  3. Expected start date
  4. Sustainable Development Goal
  5. For how many hours per week will the volunteer be required?
  6. Host entity
  7. Type
  8. Duration
  9. Number of assignments

Details:

  1. Mission and objectives
  2. Context
  3. Task description

Requirements:

  1. Required experience
  2. Languages.

From the side of candidates, they benefit from what they will actually service in the volunteering period. In general, volunteers look for not only some different life experience but also solid achievement that they will be proud of and can be written their Curriculum Vitae (CV). On the other hand, host organisation receives either certain amount of workforce they required, or the special skills they are deficient in and have not yet the opportunity to acquire without paying a great amount of money.

Secondly, in some position the stipend is attached. As board member in SACOLA receives small amount of communication/transportation allowance if they participate in any activities related to SACOLA. A small amount of stipend can also increase the participation and make volunteer work seamlessly and without financial pressure.

In conclusion, the more specific the volunteering programme is, the more possible to attract suitable international volunteers. A small stipend can increase the productivity of a volunteer at any rate. Therefore, I have proposed a SACOLA volunteer programme contract template, orangising every point aforementioned in order to specify SACOLA’s volunteering, attracting more suitable candidates, making SACOLA’s projects more successful.

Local Communication Officer/ Project Manager

Lack of permanent workers obviously emerges as a main issue in SACOLA. Considering people in local communities that only can speak Kinyarwanda, an international participant is hard to penetrate into local communities, know the demand of local people, and manage projects independently. Furthermore, some members in SACOLA are not accustomed to English. Some educated in school with French, some just have few chance to use English in daily life. A local communication officer or project manager here can become a bridge between locals and internationals.

Hence, I proposed a job opportunity for local people. The guy should be fluent in at least English and Kinyarwanda, and French is desirable. Furthermore, he/she should hold a degree in university and have experience in project manager and communication, due to daily work based on documenting and communication between organisation and local community.

New Project Cooking

During the period of volunteering, SACOLA provides me with freedom to make some personal research and explore local communities. I discovered 3 opportunities to build high-quality local greenhouses in local communities Kinigi/Nyange of Musazne, Rwanda.

1). Demand from high-end lodges and restaurants

Kinigi and Nyanage are at the foot of Virguna (Volcano) National Park, one of the renowned location to trace mountain gorillas. The high-end ecotourism has generated revenue for Rwadan government as well as local communities and attracted numerous luxury hotels and lodges to service international tourists. Within 3 kilometers from Volcanoes National Park Headquarters, there are 7 high-end lodges and hotels that the price per night exceeds 200,000 Rwandan francs approximately 200 USD (Fig. 1). The most luxury one is One & Only Gorilla’s Nest, charging over 2700,000 Rwandan francs per night with fluctuation (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1 A search on google map shows the high-end lodges in Kinigi and Nyanage
Fig. 2 One of luxury, high-end lodges in Kinigi, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest. (Credit by Launch of One & Only Gorilla’s Nest | Kinigi, 27 February 2020, Paul Kagame)

High density of high-end lodges and restaurants are easily found due to the high-end ecotourism at the foot of Virguna (Volcano) National Park. They require high-equality ingredients to service the customers, which they are usually imported from greenhouses in Kigali or overseas.

If local greenhouses have capability to produce high-quality vegetables and fruits, fresh agricultural products can not only improve food service quality of hotels and lodges but also reduce the footprint of food production.

2). Professional Support inside SACOLA

One day, my Rwandan host of SACOLA took me on the bus to visit a greenhouse. I was not sure what it was going to be, but eventually I was so surprised what I have experienced.

The place he brought me in, is owned by Apollinaire Karegeya, who is the pioneer of aeroponic system in Rwanda. He is the founder and chairman of SPF-JOINT VENTURES, a potato seed production company in Busogo, Rwanda.

The most surprising is not the aeroponic system for growing potatoes, is the company collaborating with University of Rwanda, introduces the three-stage propagation system, taking advantage of the modern screen houses. It is a widely used propagation system to produce healthy and disease-free seed potatoes or any other root and tuber crops with vegetative reproduction. The aeroponic system takes over G1 stage: Mini-Tubers, just right after G0 stage: In Vitro Plant Tissue Culture for the laboratory, preventing source seed potatoes from soil disease.

After the tour with the production manager, Evariste, I met Apollinaire Karegeya in front of the office. My Rwandan host of SACOLA ran into him and introduced me. I had a small talk with him about this awesome aeroponic screen house system and appreciate his work to the food security of Rwanda. Afterwards, my host told me he is also one of the board member in SACOLA. “Ah! You guys really have strong allies!”

From then on, I firmly believe SACOLA has great potential for local greenhouses, with the right person who can supervise greenhouse construction, with the support of technology and knowledge from Apollinaire Karegeya.

Fig. 3 Seed potatoes grow inside MEGA AEROPONIC SCREENOUSE, Busogo.
Fig. 4 Potato tubers are grown with aeroponic system instead of under the soil.

3). Alignment with National Sustainable Development Goals

Agriculture sector in Rwanda plays a key role in improving livelihoods and sustaining the country’s economy, accounting for nearly 30% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [1]. In 2017, Sustainable Agricultural Intensification for Improved Livelihoods, Food Security and Nutrition Project (SAIP) was implemented in order to sustain cultivation and productivity under the challenge climate change and Rwandan hilly topography [2].

As living in Musanze, Rwanda, I discovered there are fewer choices of vegetables and fruits in the local markets. In the local restaurant, only potatoes, red beans and onions are in the dish (Fig. 5). More exaggeratedly, once I went to visit a remote school in Shingiro, the school lunch is only made by millet flour and rice beans (Fig. 6). Uptake of vegetables and fruits is crucial for preventing diet-related non-communicable diseases and children’s stunt.

Promoting climate smart agriculture practices are crucial to sustain stable, nutritional, and diverse food production.

The SAIP project promotes greenhouse as a climate smart agriculture practice. Combined with technology and knowledge, greenhouse has potential to improve agriculture and irrigation, increase the availability and consumption of nutritional foods while diversifying farmers’ income [3]. It is also a reason why I think greenhouse project is applicable to SAOCLA. With production from greenhouse, a share of vegetables and fruits can inflow into local communities, which aligns with not only SACOLA’s goals as a community supporter but also the vision of Rwandan government.

Campsite inside SACOLA office

I cannot agree more that SACOLA office has a perfect location for ecotourist. It is situated beside Volcanoes National Park Headquarter within 500 metres (Fig. 5). Furthermore, the garden inside SACOLA office is suitable for camping. I spent several nights in SACOLA office in order to enjoy the tranquility of solo camping.

Fig. 5 Location of SACOLA office is closed to Volcanoes National Park Headquarters within 500 metres.

I don’t want to be selfish, so I propose SACOLA office’s campsite for them. It is also a “Mutualism” for both tourists and SACOLA.

SACOLA already has sufficient facilities such as a toilet, fence, and a flat garden. Furthermore, the security guards have been hired already to patrol and secure the safety inside SACOLA’ office 24/7. The only additional work should be done by SACOLA is hire a receptionist who can speak at least English and Kinyarwanda, in order to provide customer service as they need.

Tourists camping inside SACOLA office can access to Volcanoes National Park Headquarter in the next morning by walking. They are also protected by SACOLA without any worries of security issue. The toilet beside the garden is free to use. The only inconvenience is costumers should finish their foods or bring foods from themselves into the campsite.

I propose this idea to generate more revenue for SACOLA to further provide more community-based support. On the other hand, free space can be used effectively.

Website update

Last but not least, I spent some of my leisure time on update of SACOLA’s website. In order to attract more attention around the world. I add a part in the page of community project. In the projects I have visited, the introduction, involvement of SACOLA and lastly the alignment with United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are added.

To conclude, I hope SACOLA can be a great community-supported model. Nature should be conserved properly, local communities are the most important partners to involve. It reminds my the legacy of Dian Fossey, stating at the epilogue of his renowned book, Gorillas in the midst.

‘Promotion of tourism, if properly directed, might well prove profitable on a nationwide basis and thus compel the one-to-one reapers of wildlife proceeds to give way to the rule of the majority.’ — Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist, 1983

From that time until now (1983–2022), tourism has been thriving as expected. The envisage of Dian Fossey turns out to be reality. Then now, if I think about what is the best for our nature, it would not be the time to expand the ecotourism business but to sustain. But how to achieve this? Secure ecotourism has to be offered by Rwandan government with a limit. Communities have to be involved and benefited from this precious, delicate ecotourism, so they can appreciate nature and the conservation. Organisations at the foot of Volcanoes National Park like SACOLA, have transfer the revenue of ecotourism to the actual improvement of local communities.

It is a new page of wilderness conservation, only if communities involve in, the conservation can succeed in a long run.

Fig. 6 Rwandan school kids in Shingiro

Reference

  1. RWANDA’S AGRICULTURE SECTOR TRANSFORMATION JOURNEY OVER THE LAST 27 YEARS. (2022) .Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. https:// www.minagri.gov.rw/updates/news-details/rwandas-agriculture-sector-transformation-journey- over-the-last-27-years.
  2. Sustainable Agricultural Intensification for Improved Livelihoods, Food Security and Nutrition Project (SAIP). (2017). Åsa Giertz & Esdras Byiringiro. https://www.gafspfund.org/index.php/ projects/sustainable-agricultural-intensification-improved-livelihoods-food-security-and- nutrition.
  3. Rwanda’s Greenhouses Bring Growth. (2022). GAFSP. https://www.gafspfund.org/news/ rwandas-greenhouses-bring-growth

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