Farmers in the Misizi Marshland in Rwanda have celebrated their first maize harvest—, but the fruits of their labour go beyond the crop itself. The Misizi Marshland project is bridging divides by bringing refugees and local community members together to support each other.
With funding from the IKEA Foundation, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its partners are supporting an agricultural project in the Misizi Marshland. The project gives 1,427 host community and Congolese refugee farmers the opportunity to work.
Growing opportunities for refugees
When Muhizi Kayonde Pierre was forced to flee his home with his wife and two children, he arrived in Rwanda and had to start from scratch.
Today, Muhizi is the vice-president of the Cooperative of Misizi Marshland farmers in Rwanda’s Mugombwa sector, in Gisagara district. The 39-year-old Congolese refugee now has four children. Thanks to the farming initiative he is supporting himself and his family.
Earlier this year, the farmers produced more than 101 tonnes of maize, of which 37 tonnes were sold to the Africa Improved Food company. The remaining produce enabled the farmers to feed their families.
Growing resources for local communities
Niyitegeka Francine, who is 53 years old, is from Rwanda. She lives in Mugombwa sector with her husband and seven children.
“Some of us have been growing crops in this wetland for 30 years. In the beginning we assumed that refugees were going to take over the marshland. After discussions, we are living peacefully together with our Congolese neighbours. Before, the camp was only for refugees, but from the time when this project brought social cohesion, we all belong to Mugombwa,” she said.
UNHCR helps the farmers gain access to commercial markets and national programmes that offer subsidised agricultural products such as seeds, fertiliser, organic pesticides and solar irrigation kits. The project is covering farmers’ costs for the first two cropping seasons. It is also helping refugees and host communities form cooperatives and access financial services, so they can start saving and buy the agricultural products they need from the third season onwards. UNHCR will assess how much income the farmers are generating, in particular the refugees, and gradually reduce food assistance as they become self-reliant.
Growing together through new alliances
According to Francine, this project has brought remarkable changes in the community’s agricultural techniques, livelihoods, and their lives in general.
“This project is promising,” she says. “We are given an incentive while we are working in our own plots. We formed one cooperative where refugees and nationals have equal rights, and we have started informal saving groups among refugees and nationals. This is really heartening, and we are grateful.”
In line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which is being rolled out in Rwanda, the Misizi Marshland project embraces the approach of including refugees in their host community. Refugees benefit from supported access to the agricultural, labour and commercial markets. Together with Rwandan farmers, they can build their skills and contribute to the local economy while becoming self-reliant and contributing towards local development goals.