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FAO in Rwanda

Bringing rural women to the fore in the zero hunger fight

Members of the maize farmers' cooperative - Urumuri Cyahinda - in Nyaruguru heading to the maize milling plant. They're benefiting from JP-RWEE project. ©FAO/Teopista Mutesi

Over 80 percent of Rwanda’s population is estimated to live in rural areas and women account for more than 60 percent of the agricultural labour force, which employs the majority of the people.

As such, rural women perform most of the farm work related to ploughing, planting, weeding and harvesting; however, their income often doesn’t correspond with the amount of time they invest.

Through multiple studies on development, experts have found evidence to support the assertion that “rural women are key agents for achieving economic, environmental and social transformational changes that are required for sustainable development.”

However, limited access to credit, health care and education are among the many challenges that rural women face, and further aggravated by the global food, economic crises and climate change.

To address that and many more challenges most women face in rural areas, since 2014, through the project “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (JP-RWEE)", four UN agencies – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and UNWomen, are jointly implementing the project in three districts of Rwanda; Nyaruguru, Kirehe, and Ngoma.

The goal of the intervention is to put women in a position where they are more productive economically to get their households out of poverty.

The three districts have some of the highest rates of people living in extreme poverty, according to the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey 4 (EICV4); agriculture, petty cross-border informal trade, are among the economic mainstays for the people there.

To date, over 20 000 rural women have directly participated in activities of the project with indirect benefits reaching more than 87 000 people including men.

Enhancing agricultural production

The rural women were trained on improved farming practices, skilled them in natural water harvest techniques, and water storage facilities were installed for them to access to water for domestic use, livestock and small-scale irrigation. They also received fruit trees, chickens, biofortified beans and sweet potatoes, farming implements as well as post-harvest handling bags.

Alphonsine Nyirabagenzi is the President of Urumuri Cyahinda Cooperative, one of the eight groups benefiting from JP-RWEE programme activities. The group is predominantly composed of maize farmers, currently numbering up to 327 locals, including 149 women and 178 men.

“Even though we have more men than women in the group, members entrusted a woman to be the leader of the cooperative, this is thanks to JP-RWEE which has through different capacity building trainings,” Alphonsine says.

The group has recently completed constructing a maize storage house where harvested corn will be kept. They have also, with the support of RWEE acquired a maize milling machine to process the corn into flour which attracts higher prices at the market place.

Marie Goreth Uwintije, is a 39-year old widow and mother of four, in Ngoma district. She lost her husband in a road accident, a decade ago. But her economic situation has improved as a result of her increased harvests and says she is, more than ever, confident of taking care of her children.

 “In the past, I used to harvest around 370 kg of rice from my 12-acre garden but after receiving the trainings on how to use natural fertilizers and other improved farming techniques, my yield from the same garden has improved to over 500 kg per harvest,” says Marie Goreth.

With one unprocessed rice costing Rwf25 000, Marie Goreth earned nearly Rwf300 000 from the last season. From the money earned, she was able to pay school fees and take care of other household needs.

Rural women entrepreneurs

In order to increase incomes and secure the livelihoods of rural women, the JP-RWEE has also equipped participants with entrepreneurial skills and empowered them with the ability to identify opportunities which has seen them establish small-scale home-based enterprises like poultry.

Florence Nyirantezimana is a 42-years old mother of five and is resident of Nyamugali sector, Kagasa cell, Urugwiro village in Kirehe district, located near Rwanda’s border with Tanzania.

Recently, she secured a soft loan from her group saving cooperative which is one of the seven women groups that are currently benefiting from JP-RWEE activities in Kirehe district.

“With the money, I have managed to embark on a poultry project at the back of our house. Once they come of age, I intend to sell them, pay off the loan and use the balance to scale the business,” she says adding that her husband, who owns and runs a local pub, has been supportive.

Her neighbor, 35-year old Uwizeyimana Agnes, a mother of five used the soft loan obtained from her saving’s group to buy a sewing machine, whose operating skills she had obtained from one of the trainings offered by the RWEE Joint Programme agents in her area.

“I go with my machine to every market day where I earn money sewing people’s garments. I have many customers’ assignments and I work on them from home. Thanks to RWEE, I am no longer just a wife to my husband, I am a partner contributing to our household welfare,” she says.

Breaking access to finance barriers

According to statistics from the National Bank of Rwanda, women in general face challenges when they attempt to access finance from formal institutions. It is an aspect JP-RWEE is trying to address through organizing rural women into saving groups from which members can access soft loans.

In Nyaruguru district, located along Rwanda’s border with Burundi, Ancilla Mukantagara, a 62-year old mother of eight, has her local group to thank for her capacity to take care of the education needs of three of her children that are still in school and a husband who has been physically incapacitated since a near fatal road accident he suffered in 1984.

Ancilla is a member of the Kopabinya cooperative whose members are maize growers. It is also one of the eight women groups that work with JP-RWEE in Nyaruguru. As a member of the group, Ancilla has secured credit to keep her children in school and take care of her three cows.

In all three districts, rural women say they now have a clear perspective of what they can do, to secure their livelihoods through investment using soft loans obtained from their group small savings schemes. As a result, JP-RWEE has helped break barriers to accessing finance.

For some of the women that are married, they say that their men now regard them with more respect and are offering their support towards the women’s initiatives, to support their households.

“My task is to give her support as she takes care of things. She is in charge and our kids are happy at school and as a household, we are steadily prospering out of poverty. I encourage Rwandan men to support their wives to actively participate in economic empowerment programmes such as RWEE,” says 68-year old Isaias Kanamugire, husband to Ancilla Mukantagara.

Local leaders laud JP-RWEE

The local leaders where JP-RWEE activities are being implemented, say the programme has had a direct contribution towards their respective areas’ social economic development goals and would like for it to be extended to other areas.

“The JP-RWEE has boosted women’s self-confidence and their leadership skills through participation in public life, they have also gained entrepreneurial mindset which is key to fighting poverty,” says Jean Damascene Nsengiyumva, Vice-Mayor in charge of economic development for Kirehe district.

Ildephonse Nzabagerageza, is an Agronomist in sake sector, Ngoma district. He said women have gained skills in greenhouse construction and farming; this has seen an increase in vegetable production in the area. This has contributed towards food security as well as nutrition standards.

Living positively with HIV/ AIDS

In 2004, Leonille Uwamariya, a 50-year old mother of three decided to come back to Rwanda from Tanzania where she was a refugee and later married. Four years before returning to Rwanda, Leonille had lost her husband to a disease she didn’t know. It would later turn out to be AIDS, caused by the incurable HIV virus. Leonille didn’t know she had the virus herself.

In a bid to financially support her livelihood back home, without a job, she practiced prostitution; but she didn’t know she was risking the lives of others.

“Without a job or any meaningful skills, I could not afford salt, clothes and other basic necessities of life so I decided to engage in prostitution,” she explains. She would earn from her newly found enterprise.

“JP-RWEE has helped restore my dignity as a woman. I was living a reckless and dangerous life as a commercial sex worker because I didn’t know what I else I could do to sustain my livelihood. I am now an agent of positive living with HIV and an activist that is helping change the lives of other women involved in commercial sex work. Through group saving, together with other women, we able to support each other to start small income generating activities which have helped us live with dignity as Rwandan women” Leonille says.


Teopista Mutesi | Communications Specialist | Email: Teopista.Mutesi@fao.org OR FAO-RW@fao.org