Rwandan Women Farmers: Leading the Way to An Inclusive World
By Dan Gies
In the hills of Rwanda, which I have called home for the past four years, women are an integral part of the agriculture industry and represent 63 percent of the agricultural workforce. Too often, however, Rwandan women do not have the opportunity to take charge of their land and run their farms like an enterprise due to reproductive work such as care-giving and domestic housework roles, including cleaning, cooking, childcare, and the unpaid domestic labor force.
With the goal of enabling women to transform their farms from subsistence to commercial production, the Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze Activity works to provide women the tools and opportunities they need to improve productivity, facilitate access to finance, peer meetings and find nutritious ways to feed their families — all while knocking down gendered social barriers and engaging men as allies in the household. For example, in the past 3.5 years, 39,286 women who cultivate nutritious, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, high-iron beans, and other fruits and vegetables joined programs that connect them to productive economic resources. To help their crops achieve maximum yield, we support these women to gain access to agricultural best practices and productivity enhancing inputs like lime, fertilizer, and improved seed varieties.
And these women are not just supporting their families. They are building a strong foundation for the future generation of women in agriculture, leading by example as they work hard to provide nutritious foods for their families and improve equitable household decision making and division of labor. For example, Seraphine Nyirarubanza from the Rurembo sector along with her cooperative members, and 164 cooperatives like theirs, worked with Hinga Weze to establish improved irrigation systems and fertilization practices to build and enhance terraces. The over 72,000 households that took part saw 50 percent yield increases. Nyirarubanza, in particular, described a twofold increase, surmounting previous obstacles to her productivity. “I used to harvest only 200 kgs on my 20-acre plot,” she noted, “but after Hinga Weze showed me how to terrace and apply the appropriate inputs, I am now able to harvest 400 kgs.”
Many Rwandan woman also face barriers to accessing finance. Through the Activity, women business owners like Phoebe Nyirafeza, CEO of DAZI maize processing factory, gained access to credit from microfinance institutions, enabling her to scale up business operations, repair infrastructure, and stock inventory to increase output and revenue. In 2018, Hinga Weze supported Nyirafeza to connect with INKUNGA Micro-Finance and she received credit worth over $100,000 (106 million RWF) to enhance her business. “From the first installment of 20 million RWF, I managed to restock raw materials and repair machines,” she observed to Hinga Weze. “Production has already improved.”
To date, Hinga Weze has facilitated $1.14 million in financing for women in the agriculture sector in Rwanda. Using a grant facility with cost contribution, the Activity has also enabled women business owners to adopt the CNFA Farm Service Center model, a one-stop-shop providing inputs and crop and animal health advice for farmers. Our partnerships with local tech companies like BK TecHouse, who works to scale up the Government of Rwanda’s Smart Nkunganire System, link men and women farmers alike with agrodealers through an integrated digital service platform.
While our activity works to create an enabling environment to support these entrepreneurial women, Rwandan women farmers are taking charge of their present and their future — growing their farms into successful enterprises and engaging families with saving groups to earn more income. With their hard work, grit, and determination, they are challenging gender norms, breaking barriers and forging a way to an inclusive world.
 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, Gender Thematic Report of December 2018