Womenpower in sustainable agriculture of Rwanda

Nirere Josephine One Acre Fund farmer
Nirere Josephine, Farmer, One Acre Fund

In Rwanda, about 83% of people earn their living from agriculture. This means that the rainy season and cycles of plant growth dominate local life. Climate change is becoming a problem and a potential factor of poverty among local farmers. Providing food for their families is the most important thing and, in these farming communities, crops are an important asset. 

When I first meet Nirere I am amazed how beautiful she is. “It’s because I have good life,” she says. “My name means ’educated’ and I had chance to go to school.” Nirere is a farmer like all her neighbours. She lives with her two children and her husband is working on constructions in another part of Rwanda. He visits every few months so Nirere in fact is the rock of the family. In this part of the world, it’s very common to find women responsible for feeding whole families. Women make up over 60% of clients in One Acre Fund—the organisation we visited during the IWitness trip to Rwanda.

Nirere has not always been a farmer but when she had a job in a church her income was too small. About 10 years ago she started her own business—making sorghum beer. Crops were good that time and she had a lot of clients. But after some time, more people followed the idea. Competition appeared and Nirere’s income became smaller.

When she met a field officer from One Acre Fund seven years ago, she joined the programme without hesitation. At the beginning, she put in a very small order – just for beans. It gave her a chance to save time, which she could use at the food market. Like other One Acre Fund clients, she took part in trainings for improving agricultural methods.

The bean crops exceeded her expectations and motivated her to buy more land and expand her cultivation. Also, her new skills were appreciated, and she became a group leader. (Farmers working with One Acre Fund form groups and attend trainings together. Each group is led by a group leader elected by the farmers.) Now she has not only food security but also different streams of income. She works from sunrise to sundown, first on her own land, then with other One Acre Fund farmers on their farms training and helping them develop their skills, while still selling traditional beer.

“I do not have as much strength as I used to,” Nirere says “so I’m thinking about new ideas what to do.”

This entrepreneurial thinking is something that she has learnt while working with One Acre Fund and which she is passing on to her children. Both her son and daughter go to school and, in the afternoons, they help with the family business. Life is good for all of them.

 “I’m proud of my home”

We also visit Leoncie, another One Acre Fund client. Her home is large and very well maintained. Leoncie has five children—three daughters, all married and living with husbands and two sons who still live with her and are not married yet. She also takes care of one more relative —a young girl who helps her with housework.

“I’m 63 years old and I’m very proud of my home,” Leoncie says. “I pray to God that I can live in my home and say how my children grows their own families.”

Leoncie and her husband were lifelong farmers and had struggles feeding their family. After he died in 2007, it became even more difficult. For years, Leoncie supported the family by working as a teacher. At that same time, she met a Field Officer from One Acre. She knew about the programme because she had seen that many of her neighbours’ harvests were getting better and better, as they started to use fertilisers. Eventually, she joined in, and in 2012 she became one of One Acre Fund’s clients. From that time many things changed. She was able to afford to buy more land, hire people to help her and did not need to work so hard personally. Now, she doesn’t have to be afraid about feeding her family.

Leoncie Nyirahabimana, Farmer, One Acre Fund
Leoncie Nyirahabimana, Farmer, One Acre Fund

“I have enough money to have food and to make my home more beautiful,” Leoncie says. “I built new walls and made a new roof. I ordered solar lamps so I will have light. All my life I was like a lot of other women in Rwanda responsible for feeding my family. Now, in my age, I’m very happy to have grown-up kids with their families, fields as an income and community which respects me.” 

Our conversation is interrupted by outside noise. Children from the school next to her house have just finished classes and they begin to call their former favourite teacher. For me, it’s time to go but I have got what I came for. I have seen how One Acre Fund, with support from the IKEA Foundation, is creating a better life for many people.