Large community on the margins of society

The community of Kagina Potters lives in Kamonyi District and currently consists of 106 families. The potters of Rwanda have been practicing this craft for centuries, which was assigned to the forest dwellers from the 15th/16th century as the only permissible occupation. Today, Rwanda’s potters suffer greatly from the lighter and roughly equally expensive plastic and aluminum/metal alternatives. The traditional pots below are sold on the local market once a week for CHF 0.60 – and despite the low price they hardly find any takers.

The potters, who officially belong to the “poorest of the poor”, have subsequently tried to move away from utilitarian objects into the field of handicrafts.

However, these products can only be sold in the capital, Kigali, where the middle and upper classes are at home and where tourists can be found. Due to the lack of motorized transport, they have to undertake a four-hour walk. They sell their products there for CHF 6.

Chicken & Egg

Hunger and malnutrition are common problems for the Kagina Potters community. With traditional pottery yielding too little, especially in recent years, the community decided to engage in new livelihoods. In 2017, 20 members of the community formed a cooperative to launch a chicken production. Their goals were and are:

– Combating malnutrition through the production of eggs and meat, and using the chicken droppings to grow vegetables.

– Income generation.

Each community member has received at least three chickens and has thus been able to participate in the production. Within six months, the original chicken coop could/needed to be tripled in size and the original 20 chickens have become 80. 100 chicks are now raised and about 1000 eggs are hatched.

The initial doubts of some community members have subsided thanks to the evident success.

Brick production

The success of chicken production has led the community to enter another field of business: The production of bricks and roof tiles. Since working with clay and mud is part of their traditional craft, they only need training related to the use of machinery. 

In rural areas and villages, respectively, it is permitted to build with air-dried bricks. In Kigali, however, the government has banned them. Consequently, there is a great demand for baked bricks. From a South Korean patron, Kagina Potters had received hydraulic and electric machines for making bricks. The hydraulic machines are not bad, but they cannot squeeze enough water out of the clay. For the electric machines, the Kagina Potters lacked electricity because it was too expensive to connect them. With the remaining money from the chicken production this connection could be financed.

Production method:

1. clay is prepared, 2. pressed into bricks by machine, 3. dried, and 4. fired.

To combat erosion and make reforestation feasible, the government banned professional brick firing with wood in 2005. Accordingly, the kilns would be fired with vegetable waste.

The clay comes from Nyabarongo swampland, which the government provides to the community. All swampland is owned and managed by the government. If production reaches the hoped-for numbers, access to more swampland will be needed. However, since the government is behind the project, this should not pose any problems. With both machines, they think they can produce several thousand bricks per month. 

Initially, they plan to work with 12 trained and 18 unskilled workers, recruited primarily from the community and secondarily from the surrounding area. They will train the workers within the community. Since the school dropout rate in this community is relatively high, this total of 30 jobs would be a significant step out of poverty.

Ceramic Production

In order to generate greater added value for their work, the Ceramic Production project has now been launched.

Building on the long tradition of pottery, individual members will be trained in the production of ceramic products to be made for tourist demand but also for hotels and restaurants.

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