Note: The University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Water for Food Global SEEDS student learning community, hosted by the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute, is focused on professional development in entrepreneurship, agriculture and sustainable development. As part of their studies, students visited Rwanda in Summer 2019 to research agriculture entrepreneurship models. The following is one of several guest posts from students' about their experiences.
How Hinga Weze is changing the lives of Rwandan farmers.
What comes to your mind when you hear the term agriculture? Most Rwandans like myself answer this question by describing traditional methods of farming-like the use of hoes, manual labor, and other forms of soil digging. As a student in the department of agriculture, I have learned that agriculture is a broader sector than it is perceived to be. It is more than just soil digging and getting your hands dirty. Rwanda depends heavily on agriculture. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the agricultural sector in Rwanda accounts for 33% of the national Gross Domestic Product. It is not easy to understand how this sector contributes so much to the country’s economy when more than 70% of the population is solely doing subsistence farming. However, Rwanda is trying to transition from subsistence-oriented farming to market-oriented farming. Hinga Weze is one of the many organizations working in Rwanda to improve the agriculture sector in Rwanda.
Hinga Weze is a 5-year United States Agency International Development (USAID) funded project that focuses on increased income for smallholder farmers, improved nutritional status of women and children, and the resilience of Rwanda’s agricultural and food systems to a changing climate. Hinga Weze partners with other organizations like Plan International, the Imbaraga Farmers’ Federation, and the Rwanda Development Organization. Hinga Weze operates in districts like Rutsiro, Ngororero, Nyamagabe, Karongi, and Ngoma. In all these districts, they implement projects that are aligned District Action Plants, USAID contractual target, and Minagri (the ministry of agriculture) because it subsidizes half of the cost of irrigation equipment. Primary crops are maize (corn), sweet potatoes, iron beans, and so on. By 2022, the project expects to have reached 200,000 farmers in terms of yield increase, 560,000 households directly benefiting from increased agricultural production and improved nutrition, and 4,600hectares of land benefiting from improved soil and water management practices.
This summer, while visiting Hinga Weze with other global SEEDS scholars from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we got a deeper understanding of what they do. Their project is based on three program approaches. The first is to increase sustainable agricultural productivity. This is done by training farmers on practices such crop rotation, proper application of fertilizers, and maximizing the effectiveness of input use. We visited one of their sites in Bugesera where they built an irrigation system that helps farmers to supply water to their crops. This system is cheaper because it uses solar energy instead of costly fuel energy. This is all aligned with increasing agriculture productivity. Another approach is expanding farmers’ access to markets. This is done by linking farmers to potential customers, providing additional financial services, and helping them access to proper storage equipment to reduce post-harvest losses. The third approach is improving the nutritional outcome of agriculture interventions.
The nutrition program is of particular interest to me! The program has 147 members who are put into nine small groups that comprise of six women and three men. Hinga Weze helps them take care of their kitchen garden by teaching them how to properly grow on the small piece of land and providing them with seeds. The farmers are encouraged to grow vegetables and fruits because they are rich in nutrients and they are can easily be taken care of as the kitchen garden is usually near their homes. Each small group is encouraged to attend a cooking section at the district where a Hinga Weze representative shows them how to prepare balanced meals for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, as well as infants from six-23 months. Farmers in the program easily get loans from each other and each month they buy goats and chickens for four members to continue to increase income and nutrition.
The Hinga Weze project is not only transforming the image of agriculture, but also changing the lives of farmers. I talked to one the members, Mukantwari Dorothy (Doroteya), and these are her words; “My babies have not gone through a kwashiorkor phase and I don’t think they will; I can feed them a balanced diet because I can easily get vegetables from my kitchen garden and I have a goat to give me milk. We are healthier than ever!” She said. Kwashiorkor is a form of severe protein malnutrition characterized by edema, and an enlarged liver with fatty infiltrates. While they may have sufficient calorie intake, children with kwashiorkor are suffering insufficient protein consumption. The positive results of the program can also be seen through a 50% increase in farmer productivity, 40% of the women’s dietary diversity score as well as children from six-23 months have been receiving the minimum acceptable diet. These results were collected by Hinga Weze after giving training and providing seeds – further follow-up is done to make sure the project continues to be successful.
On the other hand, Hinga Weze still faces challenges in fulfilling the five-year project. For example, on its irrigation project, there is a lack of financing opportunity. The irrigation equipment used is very expensive and shipped from overseas. Also, even after securing the equipment, the operating cost is very high in terms of energy requirement and maintenance. There is also a relatively small market for the equipment, as there is a lack of technological skills to operate them along with the poor infrastructure in rural areas where they are most needed.
While there is more work to be done, Hinga Weze’s project in Rwanda have proven successful and are changing the lives of farmers.