A heart for business: women farmers turned entrepreneurs in Rwanda

Social protection measures boost skills and confidence in smallholder farmers

With a heart for business, Christine just needed the capital and a little boost of confidence to turn her vegetable garden into a profitable business. ©FAO/Teopista Mutesi


Christine Mushimirimana is a farmer in the Rubavu District of Rwanda. Like her, the people in this district of Rwanda are predominately smallholder farmers. The soil here is fertile, but most farmers lack access to seeds, fertilizer and good farming practices. Consequently, this area has the highest malnutrition rates in the country.

Initially, Christine grew a few crops such as beans and maize, mostly for her family to eat, but it was not enough. She also supported her family through part-time work on other people’s farms, earning a meagre wage. Two of Christine’s children were forced to drop out of secondary school. Even though they attended public schools, she could not afford school materials.

In 2017, Christine was selected as a participant in FAO’s social protection project. As part of the training, she received a starter-kit with avocado seedlings, vegetable seeds and two goats. In addition, she received training on good agricultural practices for vegetable production and small animal husbandry through a Farmer Field and Life School (FFLS), which also included training on agribusiness, nutrition, gender equality and financial literacy.

With this new information and inputs, Christine grew the seedlings and in the first harvest, she reaped much more than her family could consume. Her attitude towards growing vegetables has changed.

“Before, I couldn’t afford fertilizer. The goats I received gave me organic manure, which I used in my garden, and I realized that it increased yields. I sold some of the extra vegetables and in the next three months, I was harvesting again…It was amazing!” Christine says with excitement.

Her harvest has grown from mere 20 cabbages to more than 500 cabbages, all from her garden.

“I have added carrots, beetroots and eggplants. With the improved farming techniques, I am able to do commercial farming. Next season, I plan to grow vegetables on a bigger piece of land,” Christine adds.

Christine was one of 600 participants in FAO’s Farmer Field and Life Schools. Each group learned good practices for farming as well as some other important skills, such as financial literacy. ©FAO/Teopista Mutesi

The 600 participants of the project were organized in five FFLS. Each group started a savings and loans initiative through which households collectively saved money each week. The members of Christine’s group each contributed 400 Rwandan francs (approx. USD 0.46) per week. FAO supplied the starting base of RWF 300 000 (USD 335) to each group.

Christine took a loan from the group and started a small business of selling fruits and vegetables in a roadside market along the main highway.

“Gradually my business has improved. The profits are more than double the wage I used to get for a whole day’s work. I have stopped farming for other people. I can now get the same amount of money I used to earn from cultivating people’s farms, with a lot less labour!” says Christine with a smile.

 “I had always had a heart for business, but I didn’t have the capital or even the skills, but more than that, I wasn’t confident enough to try it out. Through the training, we were encouraged to be entrepreneurs,” says Christine.

In addition to the extra income, a larger vegetable harvest means better nutrition for her family: “Eating vegetables at a meal is something we never considered. We thought it was for rich families. I now feed my six children a balanced diet with vegetables at every meal,” says Christine.

Sebastien helping Christine to identify weeds in her carrots. ©FAO/Teopista Mutesi

Sebastien Nzabanita, one of the government social protection extension volunteers, follows up with all of the project participants in Christine’s group. Every week he stops by Christine’s land and makes sure her garden and livestock are in good health.

“Sebastien has been very helpful to me. He advises on the kind of vegetables to grow and the good farming practices that would increase productivity. He also shares with me experiences of other farmers,” says Christine.

Sebastien was also trained by FAO under the project to provide both FFLS support to the participants during and after the project’s implementation to ensure its sustainability. He has seen a change in mindset among the participants of the project. “Before they would resist doing certain things. For instance, you would ask them to plant two seeds in a hole, instead they would plant four seeds because that’s what they were used to,” says Sebastien.

Christine’s children are back in school now, and she is optimistic that her new knowledge and changed practices have improved her own life as well as her children’s.

Social protection measures are essential to reducing poverty and hunger, especially in rural areas. In the Rubavu, Nyabihu, Rulindo and Gakenke Districts of Rwanda, FAO supports agricultural programmes for social protection, which allow poor, rural farmers to strengthen their ability to manage risks, engage in more economic and productive activities and create a #ZeroHunger future. 

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2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality