Sowing Hope for the Women of Rwanda

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The team of journalists accompanied by Heather Eaton, left, and Ann Wise, third from right.
The team of journalists accompanied by Heather Eaton, left, and Ann Wise, third from right.

Sowing Hope for the Women of Rwanda

U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) in Rome’s Program Specialist Ann Wise and I accompanied a group of six international journalists along with a World Food Programme (WFP) representative last month on a media reporting tour of Rwanda. There, we saw various projects that the Rome-based UN Agencies, WFP, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), along with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have been implementing to increase crop yield, augment diets, and supplement key nutrients for vulnerable people throughout Rwanda. 

 

The village in Gisagara where the Rural Women Economic Empowerment Project is located.

 

We visited over a dozen collaborative projects improving livelihoods and food security, and I wanted to recount one of the many success stories that we saw.

On the second day of the tour, we traveled about five hours south from Kigali to Gisagara in the Nyaruguru district to visit the Rural Women Economic Empowerment Project, a joint initiative implemented by WFP-FAO-IFAD and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), with the goal of building economic opportunity and reducing gender inequality in rural Rwanda.

Through this project, the four organizations have united behind their shared goal of empowering rural women through agriculture. Participants in the program are enrolled in an FAO Farmer Field and Life School where they gain skills and an understanding of modern farming techniques. In conjunction with the training, they receive iron-fortified beans, sweet potato cuttings, vegetable seeds, Irish potatoes, and livestock from WFP and its partners to help improve their livelihoods and the nutrition of their communities. UN Women stepped in to train the participants in entrepreneurialism and responsibility sharing to enable the women to start small businesses and delegate family responsibilities to make the most of these new resources and maximize their earnings. Finally, with the help of IFAD, a maize milling station was installed at the cooperative to enable them to process their own crops, further maximizing profits. 

 

Beata’s daughter hard at work on her sowing machine.

 

During our visit to the site, we met with a few of the program’s beneficiaries, including Beata, a 48-year-old widow with four children living in Gisagara. When she joined the program, she was given a pig and provided with iron-fortified beans and training on how to plant them.

Before long, her pig had triplets, which she sold to send her daughter to vocational school. She then bought a sewing machine so her daughter could make a living as a seamstress.

With the help of the program, she was also able to obtain storage bags for her beans – this year is the first time that she has a sizable surplus – and build a cistern to collect rainwater, so that her children don’t need to hike down to the valley every day to get water.

Beata told us that the program not only taught her how to plant properly, but that it also helped her build her confidence. “Before I was not social, I was not confident,” she explains, “now I am less shy and share so much with the other women.”

Beata proudly shows the team her surplus beans.

Beata isn’t the only woman whose life has been forever changed by this program. The WFP-FAO-IFAD and UN Women project extends into 11 districts across Rwanda, with numerous cooperatives just like Beata’s. So far, the program has directly helped 17,363 beneficiaries and indirectly assisted 83,342 more. Without the coordinated efforts of these four UN agencies and U.S. financial support of these organizations, this project would not be possible.

For more coverage of our trip to Rwanda, check out our website and follow USUN Rome on Instagram and Twitter.

About the Author: Heather Eaton serves as a Public Affairs Officer for U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome.

Editor's Note: This entry is also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.