FAO Regional Office for Africa

Rural women in Rwanda use solar-powered irrigation for better production with UN agencies' support

UN partners visit Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (RWEE) project sites


According to Therese Kansayisa, one of the farmers participating in the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JP RWEE) in Rwanda’s Ngoma district, yields per hectare have increased from 30 to 70 percent and child malnutrition has decreased thanks to the project’s activities.

“We used to irrigate using watering cans manually. It was not effective. It was tiresome. We had to fetch water from the wetland using jerry cans and carry them on our heads up the hillside. The partners then gave us irrigation facilities, and we are no longer recording the cases of malnutrition as food productivity increases,” she said. “The solar-powered irrigation is currently covering all the hectares we have. We also save money to ensure the facility’s maintenance.”

The rural women participants have also built wealth worth over Rwf 200 million (USD 163 000 approx.) by earning, saving, and investing money generated from the solar-powered vegetable production.

The JP RWEE programme is a global initiative with an overarching goal to secure rural women’s livelihoods and rights in the context of sustainable development. The programme is jointly implemented by the three Rome-based UN agencies (RBAs): the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) plus UN Women, and is delivered in partnership with Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board, and other local organizations such as the Rwanda Rural Rehabilitation Initiative.  

Building on each agency’s comparative advantage and strengths to improve the status of women in rural areas, JP RWEE uses an holistic approach to women’s economic empowerment, working towards four interrelated outcomes: improved food and nutrition security; increased income to sustain livelihoods; enhanced participation in decision-making; and a more gender-responsive policy environment for rural women in agriculture.

JP RWEE is funded by the governments of Norway and Sweden and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Witnessing rural women’s empowerment

Representatives from FAO, IFAD and WFP recently toured the Ngoma district to witness the women’s achievements, as part of celebrations for the UN Day for South-South Cooperation.

South-South cooperation is a manifestation of solidarity, through the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, also known as countries of the Global South. It aims to foster self-reliance of developing countries by enhancing their creative capacity to find solutions, strategies, and technological capabilities to address their development challenges.

Ye Anping, the Director of FAO’s South-South and Triangular Cooperation Division said during his visit that FAO is committed to providing more assistance to developing countries through South-South and triangular cooperation, adding that supporting rural women is part of preparing a bright future of Rwanda’s population.

“The most important thing I saw was the combination of hardware such as the solar-powered irrigation system with investments in capacity building and empowerment activities including the Gender Action Learning System, nutrition and climate change. It is impressive to hear how the cooperative is generating income and reinvesting it,” Ronald Hartman, IFAD’s Director of Global Engagement, Partnerships, and Resource Mobilization said.

David Kaatrud, WFP’s Director of the Programme, Humanitarian and Development Division said “I thank the cooperative leadership in leading the effort for everything accomplished. You’ve shown that when you come together you can achieve so much more. As WFP, IFAD, FAO, and UN Women, together with our partners, we want to learn from you because we have a lot to do in Africa. Rural women’s empowerment contributes to community empowerment.”

Marie Gloriose Mukayiranga, the Vice Mayor in charge of social affairs in Ngoma district, said that the JP RWEE is highly contributing to the district's socio-economic development. “We will continue to work with the project beneficiaries to ensure sustaining and ownership of gained facilities,” she said.

From small things big things grow

The rural women farmers supported under the JP RWEE in Ngoma district started as small groups in FAO-led Farmer Field Schools in 2019. They were later supported to buy three hectares of farming land. In 2021, they created a cooperative called Tuzamurane Kigoma which is helping them to earn money through climate-resilient agriculture such as the solar-irrigation and invest their savings in accumulating other income-generating assets.

The cooperative comprises 163 members, of whom 144 are women. They grow different types of vegetables, fruits, and maize and raise rabbits for meat. 

The cooperative has an affordable cold room made from locally-available materials to store vegetables for up to seven days before they are supplied to the market, and a motor vehicle to transport agro-inputs to the farms and harvests to the market. They have also purchased a maize processing unit, two maize drying facilities, and a machine to test for humidity to avoid aflatoxin. They are also constructing a mini market to serve as the harvest selling point.

“When we earn income, we save and invest in other projects to build the cooperative’s wealth,” Therese Kansayisa, the cooperative president, said.

Under the joint programme, cooperative members have also been trained in areas such as equitable and joint planning, and budgeting.

UN Women has supported the cooperative to establish an Early Childhood Development Centre with the local government which serves cooperative members and the nearby community. Through a common kitchen and training materials on how to prepare a balanced diet, cooperative provides food for school meals which contributes to ensuring children’s nutrition. 

“Children go to the ECD to learn and get a balanced diet while their parents’ work. We are committed to sustaining the gains made thanks to the project,” Therese said.