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Fresnel Devalon began his long journey to Rwanda last month in the morning crush of travellers at Dorval airport near Montreal. Twenty-four hours later he was in a car driving from Kigali to his new home and office in Gitarama.


"My job for the next twelve months is to work with CCA's partners - UGAMA, Centre de Services aux Coopératives, and IWACU, Centre de Recherche de Formation - to improve the capacity of agricultural co-ops in the eastern and southern regions of Rwanda," says Fresnal, from the office he shares with UGAMA. "I will then hand over the reins to local staff."


Click to see Rwanda video   

The five-year project is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) and builds on the successes of earlier projects that linked co-op farmers to much needed credit and marketing services from local credit unions and co-operatives. When the project wraps up, some 22,000 farm households (over 130,000 individuals) will be enjoying better livelihoods through improved production, expanded marketing channels and more profitable sales.


The project supports one of Rwanda's key development objectives: food security.

"Rwanda, even though it is the most densely populated country in Africa, is determined to become food self-sufficient," says CCA program manager Brian Malcolm. "This project will help the members of 15 co-operatives to become food self-sufficient and will also help Rwanda move towards achieving that goal."


Brian says that farmers will be trained on environmentally sustainable agricultural methods and introduced to crop varieties that will lead to improved quality and quantity of their produce.


"The construction of drying stations, storage silos, and processing mills will be of particular importance, enabling farmers to add significant value to their production."


During a recent visit to Rwanda, Brian observed that farmers consistently said that if they had proper storage facilities, and access to credit on longer terms, they would be able to sell their produce for double the price they normally get when they have to sell at depressed harvest-time prices when there is a surplus of produce.


Fresnel is well suited to his new assignment. Born in Haiti, his father, a cobbler, and his mother, a petty trader selling rice, maize, beans and corn instilled in each of their four children the value of giving back to their community.


"I feel the obligation to give back to the poor whenever I get the chance, to help empower them to have a better life," he says.


Growing up in Saint Louis du Nord, a day's drive from Port-au-Prince, Fresnel took a keen interest in agronomy, helping out in his mother's shop and visiting his grandparents who lived in a remote rural area where they grew maize, bananas, yams, beans and sweet potatoes.


"Jobs were far and few between," he recalls. "My parents worked hard all their lives to provide opportunities for us to better our circumstances. The only path to a better life was to stay in school, and so they paid for our schooling."


Agronomy, engineering, medicine and teaching were clear paths to a better life. Fresnel was accepted into agronomy school.


During his studies, he gained insight into the challenges of farming from a friend and well-known farmer in his hometown.


"He was a mentor and I would frequently go to the field with him," explains Fresnel. "He once told me that farmers lack information to solve problems and improve their lives and farming practices. The truth of that has stuck with me ever since."


After his studies, Fresnel worked with the NGO community in Haiti, and continued to do so even after relocating his family to Montreal. He was co-ordinating a campaign on climate change in Port-au-Prince when the massive earthquake struck on January 12, 2010.  After a brief stint in Southern Sudan helping war-displaced people return to their villages and resettle after years living in camps, Fresnel felt compelled to return to Haiti to lend a hand in the reconstruction of his country. He joined J/PHRO, a non-profit organization established by actor Sean Penn right after the earthquake to provide relief and reconstruction. Fresnel managed a program delivering education, livelihoods and social humanitarian assistance for displaced persons.


"I organized a primary school for the kids of parents living in camps, small business training and a project making paper beads with a women's co-operative, and sports and cultural programs to help traumatized survivors recover."


Fresnel says he sympathizes with the many survivors who continue to sort through the emotional devastation of the earthquake. "To this day I still catch a bout of nerves whenever I feel vibrations of any kind."


Towards the end of his contract with J/P HRO, Fresnel decided to join CCA, where he feels at home helping people co-operate to help themselves.


Chatting before his departure for Rwanda, it is clear that this new relationship is a good fit for CCA and for Fresnel Devalon. 


"The co-op principles resonate with me," he says, smiling.



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This publication is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Cette publication est réalisée avec l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada accordé par l'entremise de l'Agence canadienne de développement international (ACDI).