It was my first trip to Africa. After arriving in Rwanda, the things that amazed the most me were the incredible views and how clean it was. I saw clean streets, side roads and sidewalks. At the end of 20th Century, Rwanda invested a lot in rebuilding and in ecological progress. In my opinion, it was the right move.
Plastic bags have been strictly prohibited in Rwanda for the last decade, and importing them can result in a fine or even jail time. This extreme but innovative approach has given a lot to the country. As I found out during my IWitness trip with the IKEA Foundation and One Acre Fund, avoiding waste is one of the main characteristics of Rwandan culture. And this is what we, in many European countries, still have to learn.
A sustainable approach to farming
The purpose of our IWitness trip was to meet smallholder farmers who were the clients of One Acre Fund. Learning about sustainable agriculture and how climate change impacts their everyday lives gave me a lot to think about, including Rwanda’s specific approach towards natural environment.
Assel Bihuta is a farmer who takes great care of his household and the surrounding environment. Order is woven into his daily routine. He begins his day by cleaning his house and after that he goes to care for his cow. In the meantime, his wife prepares their children for school.
Assel told us that before he joined the One Acre Fund, it was hard for him to feed his own children. Even though he worked hard every day with his wife, their children often walked to school hungry. We could see sadness on his face when he told us that.
Since he joined the One Acre Fund, the life of his family has changed and he can dream about the future more freely. Assel dreams of his children finishing school, and of having a new cow, which gives a lot more milk than the one he already owns.
Taking pride in the land
Assel is incredibly proud of the land he was able to buy – you can see it as he gives us a tour over his field and shows us the land he has cultivated. With great joy and a spark in his eye, he poses for the pictures and invites us to take a group photo in his carrot field. He repeats more than once that all of this was accomplished thanks to One Acre Fund.
His children are going to school now, and he is happy that they can eat a hefty breakfast that his wife prepares. Thanks to the meetings and training organised by One Acre Fund, Assel was able to stimulate his entrepreneurship and take the initiative to make changes. Thanks to all that, Assel began to have dreams.
He started to earn more but stayed true to cultivating his farm in sustainable way. On one of those meetings he learned about composting—how to do it properly and what benefits it can bring. This is how a skill that he used to perceive as difficult has become a natural activity. Assel also mentioned the harmful effects of climate change but, thanks to One Acre Fund’s support and training, he knows how to improve his agriculture techniques to minimise its negative impact.
Life without plastic
I admire how farmers are growing in strength while staying in harmony with nature. One Acre Fund teaches them sustainable agriculture, how to properly compost and use natural fertilisers in paper bags—without the use of plastic that could quickly ruin their beautiful country.
The One Acre Fund warehouses we visited were spotlessly clean, just like the surrounding area. All the seeds and grains that are being kept there are stored in paper or fibre bags. In no office of One Acre Fund did I find a plastic bag, and everything was in its place. It’s a great example that even in a space as big as a warehouse, one can work without the use of plastic and not lose in the function and the transport of goods.
I have read that Rwanda wants to take another step, and in an upcoming future ban the use of all products made from disposable plastics. Life without plastic seems impossible, but Rwanda shows us that it’s not only possible, but also something beautiful that brings measurable benefits.
I am proud that IKEA Foundation supports organisations like One Acre Fund. Climate change is a real threat, especially for countries like Rwanda, where most people are smallholder farmers for whom it is difficult to face those unknown and unpredictable changes.
I could see that the farmers I met with felt safe when speaking of One Acre Fund, as they know they can count on them for their help and they won’t be left alone. The farmers are growing in strength while staying in harmony with nature—this is truly a beautiful relationship!