November, 2013, Rwanda
As part of the travel for impact project, i had the opportunity to travel around Rwanda for a month documenting stories of local women in enterprise. For a great deal of that time, i spent it between Northern Rwanda and the Kayonza region meeting women in agriculture
In Kayonza, my friend Faith works with the opportunity center for women and she invited me to see some of the work the ladies were involved in, from brick work, crafts and of course agriculture.
Women for Women International (WfWI) began its work in Rwanda in 1997, three years after a genocide that left more than 800,000 dead and 2 million displaced. Since then, more than 66,000 Rwandan women have gained new job skills, knowledge about health and wellness and learned how to be decision-makers in their families and communities through our training program.
Over the years, WfWI has sought to create new economic opportunities and strengthen the social infrastructure for rural Rwandan women, the result of this was its groundbreaking Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC) in Kayonza, an hour drive from Kigali.
The WOC is designed as a meeting place that bridges the gap between urban buyers and rural farmers. It is a place where rural entrepreneurs can incubate businesses so they can transition from subsistence farming to larger-scale farming and other entrepreneurial activities. It also offers classroom space where women can learn new business skills and where cooperative, support networks and other groups can meet regularly.
The innovative and environmentally sustainable design is built on a five-acre campus. From the entrance along a well-traveled road, market stalls are readily accessible to the public. On the grounds of the WOC, facilities include a kitchen and restaurant, guest lodging, a large celebration space, organic vegetable and fruit gardens, and storage, training, and office space for lease to partner organizations and businesses. Inspired by traditional Rwandan meeting spaces, classrooms are shaped as circular pavilions and are at the center of the WOC. Behind the WOC, there is a large commercial demonstration farm in a fertile valley.
Demonstration Farm: The on site demonstration farm not only teaches women to make an income off the land through organic techniques geared toward commercial production, it also provides food for use in the restaurant and for sale in the marketplace. In addition, animal waste can be converted to bio-gas fuel for use on-site.
From Kayonza, i travelled North under the shadows on the great volcanoes that border Rwanda and CONGO to Imbaraga cooperative.
The mission of the Imbaraga Farmer Federation is the professionalization of the farming profession to improve the welfare of farmers in rural areas and to change perceptions of the perception. Founded in 1992 by Rwandan farmers, Imbaraga comprises of 94,324 farmer members today and located throughout 5 provinces in Rwanda that brings farmers together to share best practices and resources. The organization runs on member fees (about USD 2 annually) and contributions from non-governmental organizations. Imbaraga operates three overarching programs, including training farmers in the latest agronomic practices, linking farmers with viable markets (either through identification of markets or assistance with physical transportation), and assisting farmers as they adapt to new agricultural technologies to lighten their workload. The organization is structured at the regional level, whereby farmer groups of 30 farmers organize themselves into regional groups for the election of the federation’s representatives. Imbaraga operates a full training center in Musanze, in northern Rwanda, that has the capacity to train 200 farmers each day. With a staff of 22 full-time and 50 part-time agronomists, they work to improve the technical capacity of their member farmers. Imbaraga has a long record of connecting farmers with partners such as research centers like the International Potato Center (CIP) or the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Rwandan government’s Ministry of Agriculture and other farmer federations such as the East African Farmers Federation (EAFF).
Highlights from visiting both groups
1. The focus given to sustaining indigenous vegetables; In Musanze, the women groups i found were growing local vegetables for food, and the seeds were harvested and sold for supplementary income. Although not captured in the photo, there is also an orange sweet potato initiative in the region with more than 25,000 farmers growing orange sweet potato, which has good dietary components for children. The vines are sold again for supplementary income
2. The Kayonza women’s group visit was another eye opener where the women have organised themselves into a cooperative jointly growing food on the same land, shared labour and shared profits. In Kayonza, i got training on how to build a kitchen garden, and Jane the demonstration farm manager gave me some seeds for onion, carrot, green pepper for me to have a go at building my own kitchen garden – an idea that we will explore during the permaculture project for school children