How COOPPAVI bounced back after a devastating pandemic

By Immaculee Uwimana

November 17, 2023

Women of COOPPAVI proudly displaying their fresh fish produce.


In the calm days before the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, a thriving fishing venture known as COOPPAVI could be found on the serene shores of Lake Kivu in Rubavu District

With a team of 56 dedicated members, the business was reeling in an impressive 600 kilograms of Sambaza fish, sharing its bounty with fellow cooperatives in the local fishing community. COOPPAVI took pride in its steady monthly profit of 1.8 million Rwandan Francs. But then, the pandemic hit, and like countless others across the globe, Rubavu was not spared.

The COVID-19 pandemic bore a devastating impact on numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Rwanda, especially those owned by women. For these business owners, the toll included financial losses, reduced revenues, and layoffs.

Fast forward three years, and COOPPAVI still remembers the harrowing days when their business teetered on the brink of collapse. Mukamusoni Sauda, the Managing Director of COOPPAVI, recounts the grim days when the pandemic threw their world into turmoil, saying, "Before COVID, we were flourishing with three teams. But when COVID arrived, with the lockdowns, we couldn't cast our nets. The pandemic claimed three of our boats, along with all the equipment they held. We were left with nothing. We had to let go of our staff. All that remained was our office, but we couldn't use it much because we weren't fishing."

Then, a glimmer of hope emerged. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Rwanda, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, secured funds to support the Rwandan government's Recovery Project (RFF) for youth and women-owned enterprises and SMEs, aimed at green-lighting the national recovery from the pandemic.

COOPPAVI, one of the beneficiaries of this financial support, transformed from a business hanging by a thread to a thriving entity post-COVID. Mukamusoni Sauda speaks of newfound hope, saying, "When this grant arrived, we started anew. We bought four boats, new fridges for fish storage, a computer, a photocopy machine, and invested in creating our website. Before, we used to row our boats with oars, but thanks to the grant, we got boat engines. Our fish catch increased from 90 kilograms to 300 kilograms. Today, we supply fish to all the hotels in Rubavu, as well as to Kigali and Musanze."

The RFF project encouraged businesses to embrace renewable energy sources and implement waste reduction measures. Operating along the scenic banks of Lake Kivu, COOPPAVI also took up the responsibility of cleaning the lake. Mukamusoni adds, "The association also looks after Lake Kivu. We're committed to preserving the environment by cleaning the lakeside and collecting discarded plastics and plastic bags. In the future, we aim to recycle these materials for our boats. Our goal is to create plastic boats, protecting our environment and preventing further deforestation for wood planks."

With unwavering determination, COOPPAVI has fully capitalized on their second chance provided by the Recovery Project (RFF) for youth and women-owned enterprises and SMEs. They have worked tirelessly, expanding their catch, membership, assets, and revenues, harboring ambitious hopes for an even brighter future.