The success story of women in COVAMABA


The following story tells the fate of women of the COVAMABA cooperative, located in Rulindo District, Rwanda. COVAMABA is engaged in the cultivation of maize, vegetables, and potatoes in the Bahimba marshland. The cooperative comprises 2,531 members of which 1,310 are men and 1,221 are women.

When the swamp was drained for better agricultural management in 2013; men were at the lead of all structures that govern the use of the swamp in the cooperative. The cooperative was established in 2013 to ensure improved property management and equitable sharing among the community. The leadership of the cooperative, from the general assembly to zones and groups, was male-dominated.

The effective management of the cooperative was compromised by irregularities caused by men, who were sometimes absent due to other commitments. Since men held the primary membership, they would occasionally send their wives as representatives, a practice not normally allowed by cooperative regulations.

Over time, it became apparent that involving women in the management of the cooperative seemed inevitable. Laetitia Murorunkwere eventually assumed the role of primary member after swapping positions with her husband. Initially, her husband was the primary member, but acknowledging her capability and enthusiasm, her husband chose to exchange roles, appointing Laetitia as the primary member. This move was more than just a change in title; it was a change in perspective and a shift in the traditional gender roles that had defined their lives in the family.

On the other hand, some men used to think that allowing women to join the cooperative would lead to misconduct and a waste of time. Thus, it was a source of dispute that prevented some women from joining the cooperative earlier as noted by Petronilla Nyiranzanywayimana a forty-year-old woman who regards her journey with the cooperative as a process of self-discovery and personal development.
“I was fascinated by what my neighbours were achieving through the cooperative, but when I talked to my husband about joining the cooperative, he denied, arguing that it was an occasion of wandering and lost time”. She further explained that it required additional effort on her part to demonstrate the benefits of this initiative to her family.

Female leadership training and self-discovery

The potential hidden within women of COVAMABA was discovered through the Female Leadership Training. This is a series of workshops organised by Agriterra for cooperative leaders, management representatives, and other potential female leaders of farmers’ cooperative organisations in Rwanda. The primary aim of this training is to cultivate a deeper understanding of women’s roles within cooperatives,
ultimately contributing to increasing women’s participation, entrepreneurship, and leadership in cooperatives.

The inclusion of women in cooperatives is important for the development of farmer-led agricultural enterprises, for the farm as a family business and to contribute to more equal relations between men and women in general. Therefore, Agriterra supports the process of building female leadership in agricultural cooperatives.

COVAMABA successfully realised the overarching objective of this training. Some women can attest to the impact; female leadership within the cooperative empowered them to unearth and harness their potential for the betterment of their families and the broader community.

Justine Mutegwaraba, born in 1971, is one of those who found inspiration through this training. Her situation became complex when she suddenly found herself shouldering household responsibilities alone. She joined COVAMABA in 2013, following the passing of her husband. As a widow entrusted with the sole upbringing of her two children, the cooperative became her extended family. With the support of her fellow members, she not only managed to provide her children with an education but also nurtured a sense of belonging and empowerment. 

Talking about the role of training in the cooperative, she declared; “Female leadership training played a crucial role in empowering me with confidence, and knowledge to take on leadership roles in various aspects of life, including business, family, and the community.
It increased my self-belief and enhanced my decision-making abilities. I managed to break through gender barriers proving that I am capable of handling even tasks traditionally designated for men.”

Laetitia began taking on leadership roles in cooperatives where she learned to overcome internal fears: “Thanks to the female leadership training, I was able to confront my fears and learned to voice my opinions within the cooperative. This eventually led to my election to the Board of Directors. Additionally, I gained the trust of the community, and now I serve as a mediator at the sector level.”

She mentioned that she is working on raising awareness among other women to take leadership responsibilities. As a result, out of 168 groups that operate in COVAMABA, 88 of them are led by women; shifting from 26 groups led by women out of 87 groups in 2018. From the same year, up to September 2023, the number of women who replaced men as primary members is reaching 530.

A symbol of hope

The accomplishments of the women mentioned are not unique to them within the cooperative. They are representing the 1,221 females of COVAMABA who had united in their pursuit of progress. They were not just boasting about their personal achievements; they were speaking on behalf of women who had found empowerment, security, and a voice through the cooperative

COVAMABA has evolved into a symbol of hope, illustrating how a well-organised intervention, when applied to determined women, can initiate a ripple effect of positive change, reshaping not only their lives but also the very essence of their community.


COVAMABA plays a pivotal role in ensuring food security within the region. The cooperative successfully brought 100 metric tons of maize to the market, valued at 50,000,000 Rwf (approximately Euro 38,000), which is the surplus from what is set aside for family consumption.

Its impact extends beyond maize production. Diversified agricultural efforts resulted in abundant yields of various vegetables and potatoes, further enriching the availability of nutritious food in the community.

Their records indicate that in 2023, the cooperative harvested 3,655 metric tons of potatoes, valued at 1.3 billion Rwf, and 287 metric tons of cabbage, amounting to 43,200,000 Rwf. Women are confident that better things are yet to come as the battle continues.

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