Seeds and tools to transform returning refugees into food producers

Dividing new seeds to revitalize food production

Thousands of Rwandese refugees returning to their homeland following more than two years of exile in camps in eastern Zaire have received hand hoes and vegetable seeds in efforts to help them become food producers once again.

An estimated 2,000 families received the supplies in Rutongo, a farming village some 15 km from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in an FAO-led operation during the last week of November. Each family received a hand hoe and seeds to grow tomatoes, leeks, cabbage, eggplants and melons. Similar distributions were taking place in other parts of Rwanda.

"I am ready to work again and grow food," commented Katherine Nyiragira. The 61-year-old woman farmer had arrived in Rutongo one week earlier following a 28-day barefoot trek from the refugee camp. She made the journey and must now rebuild her life alone. Nyiragira's husband and her two children died at the camp.

Barely on her feet, she was one of an estimated 600,000 Rwandese refugees, most of them farmers, braving hot sun and rainstorms as they made their way back to their country.

At the request of the Rwandese Government, FAO and other UN organizations and agencies, donor governments, funding institutions and NGOs are supplying returnees with tools and seeds to restore food production even while emergency aid efforts are still being carried out.

FAO estimates that about $5 million in emergency agricultural assistance is needed for a total of some 2.3 million people in the Great Lakes Region (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, eastern Zaire and western Tanzania).

Families queue to receive food production kits

The supply of simple hand hoes and vegetable seeds that can be grown rapidly any time during the year forms part of a continuing assistance programme to increase productivity in the face of the sudden and massive return of refugees. Since June 1994, FAO has supplied $11.7 million in seeds, tools and fertilizers to Rwanda from its own resources and donor contributions.

The seed and tool programme will continue and be expanded in Rwanda and neighbouring countries, said FAO.


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