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Created on 13 December 2013 Written by Gloria Iribagiza
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By Gloria Iribagiza

In a bid to bridge the gender gap between men and women in the agricultural sector, several initiatives were implemented by the Government of Rwanda in partnership with institutions that focused on empowering women farmers. Several research findings indicated that as much as women were actively involved in mundane agricultural tasks, their presence was trickled down or was absent when it came to decision making, leadership and the management positions across the sector.

Consequently, a pilot research programme dubbed the, ‘Gender Value Chain Coaching’ was introduced by AgriHub Rwanda within a farmer’s forum known as the, Potato Producers Cooperative Federation of Rwanda (FECOPPORWA) to address this gap. This was by bringing men and women to analyse together the prevailing gender gaps and subsequently coming up with strategic and practical solutions on how to shift the attitude of both men and women on gender roles and responsibilities at household and cooperative levels among which inclusion of women in the decision making processes and top leadership of their cooperatives.

Through the initiative, men and women in five districts known as potato hubs and popular for potato farming were mobilized through cooperatives and introduced to a cutthroat awareness campaign that changed mindsets and transformed lives.

Speaking to The Service Mag, Mr. Camille Nsengiyumva, the former Chairperson of FECOPPORWA during the implementation of the project said that the Gender Coaching Trajectory had a massive impact on the farmers’ lives. He gave insight on the findings and results of the trajectory whose implementation he spearheaded during his tenure as Chairman of the federation.

According to Nsengiyumva, FECOPPORWA shaped the direction in which Irish potato farmers in the five districts of Nyabihu, Rubavu, Musanze, Burera and Gicumbi managed their cooperatives.

Nsengiyumva who is also the first Vice Chairman of the Farmers Chamber at Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation (PSF) and a committed member of FECOPPORWA, said the organisation was established in 2009 as a Government programme to empower cooperatives in the country.

The federation comprises of five unions in the above mentioned districts known for producing Irish potatoes. These unions have 32 primary cooperatives which consist of 3,565 individual members, of which 1,287 are women and 2,278 are men.

Shift in farmers’ mentalities
“In the Northern Province of Rwanda, we realised that many people’s understanding is still heavily based on cultural values that characterised Rwanda’s patriarchal society,” said Nsengiyumva.

With facilitation by Agri Hub Rwanda, a gender analysis was conducted in FECOPPORWA where men and women actively participated in identifying and analysing prevailing gender gaps in the potato value chain mainly in the Northern Province.
According to Nsengiyumva, it was generally evident in the research project that the actors in the potato value chain still depended on old traditional ways of thinking.

“Men had the monopoly as decision makers especially in management of family assets and in the division and distribution of family duties,” Nsengiyumva said. Adding that, “… we found that men were stuck to jobs that generated income while the women were left burdened with several household chores and farming tasks that wore them out and left them without any financial benefits.”

Basing on these findings, several issues were tabled for discussion with the sole purpose of changing the mind-sets of the actors who included seed multipliers, producers, input dealers, transporters and traders.
“We wanted to deal with what was holding them back,” Nsengiyumva stated.




With Technical assistance from AgriHub Rwanda, discussion points were arranged and a dialogue opened between men and women to discuss their role in the development of their families through the production and marketing of Irish potatoes. What helped was the use of approaches like ‘positive masculinity’, where focus was placed on changing the attitude of male farmers towards the consequent acceptance and inclusion of women in the decision making processes within their respective agriculture cooperatives. In fact this approach is based on using men as agents of positive change at a household and community levels.

According to Nsengiyumva, it was recommended that, “women farmers needed to know and fight for their rights and that men had to play a vital role in this process.”

Addressing the challenges
There were three outstanding challenges during the implementation of the gender coaching trajectory programme: the lack of an improved variety of seeds, manure and fertilizers are expensive and the consistent unstructured distribution system for all agri inputs.

Irrespective of the above, Nsengiyumva says reducing the gap in the gender value chain will call for more emphasis on discussions or debates among farmers through village meetings and community radio outreaches countrywide in addition to involving the mainstream media who are in position to disseminate, educate and inform the public on the impact of agriculture on development.

“Effective programmes that promote equality and complementality between men and women based on equal opportunities and merit are what farmers need. Women should be involved and represented in all categories of the value chain which are; farming, harvesting and the sale of their products, as well as the leadership of the cooperatives.
“Women should go beyond being casual labourers and treasurers in their cooperatives but should participate in decision making processes at the leadership level within cooperatives,” Nsengiyumva said.

At the peak of the project, FECOPPORWA noticed a major change among the women members; their self-confidence was boosted as most of them are no longer stuck in the gardens, but have taken charge of trading and marketing their produce while others have become leaders in their cooperatives, which have always been led by men. The most important outcome of the gender trajectory was women getting elected for leadership positions in cooperatives.

In conclusion, Nsengiyumva said, “Those who closely observe say that cooperatives led by women perform better.”

 

 Changed Attitudes

Karekezi, Farmer in Rubavu District
Karakezi is married with three children. He is a small-scale farmer who cultivates Irish potatoes, maize and beans on a rotational cycle on his half acre farm.

During a breakout session on positive masculinity organized by FECOPPORWA, he shared how he and his friends arrived at a decision—merely out of frustration—to create an association that ‘empowered men.’

“It was in October 2010, that I and three other friends decided to create a cultural association called ‘Association Des Maris Domines Par Leurs Femmes (AMADOF)”, Karekezi said. The association’s name literally translates to, ‘Association of Husbands dominated by Women’. Thankfully it was not approved when they sought to officially register it.

“We lived in conflict with our partners for a while and we felt that we were disrespected because they had jobs and spoke out their minds—this was the cause of our disputes. As a matter of fact, my wife had a good job and contributed a key amount of money to the family. This helped to contribute to the financial status of our family but at some point it made me feel less valued on the social level.

“She repeatedly worked late hours and it bothered me so much. This caused a conflict that set us apart. However, as I ‘m not used to violence, I confided in a friend who said it wasn’t good to use force against your wife in order to feel justified,” Karekezi narrated.

Karekezi and his wife were invited to participate in the gender trajectory meetings, where they engaged in long debates and discussions regarding conflict resolution in the family.

The couple now vibrantly share their testimony with the community in a bid to address conflicts resulting from gender role differences. They learnt why the inclusion of women in decision making alongside their husbands was important.

“Practically, the debates allowed us to have constructive dialogue, which has enabled us to get along with each another. Today, I have given up any practice or behaviour that may negatively affect the happiness of the home. I have since dropped my association with the organization I formed with my friends. When my wife returns early from work, we help each other to prepare the family meal. When we have a dispute, we are now able to respond in a constructive way,” Karekezi says.



Consequently, Ndagijimana is convinced that, contrary to what he previously believed before the course, women are as strong and as capable of running a cooperative—or even better than men.
Zebulun Ndagijimana, Farmer in Musanze District
Zebulun Ndagijimana is a potato farmer in Musanze District and is a member of a local cooperative (KABOKAN) that works closely with the Cooperative Union of Potato Producers in Musanze (UCOOPAMU).

Ndagijimana, who has repeatedly been elected as the cooperative’s president, said that when he joined the Gender coaching trajectory project, he knew that it was only men who were capable of leading and directing any entity or organisation.

Ndagijimana says he did not understand that, “a woman could be elected to a position of responsibility in view of their ‘physical and intellectual abilities’.” His mind-set was that women could only be elected to take up roles as secretaries—at best—in a cooperative.

During one of the sessions organised by FECOPPORWA under the theme, ‘Path type in the value chain’ Ndagijimana was involved in a debate on positive masculinity. That is when he came to understand the distinctions between gender and sex.

Today his attitude and behaviour has changed for the better and he says he is more, ‘gender sensitive’. Since the project was rolled out, he has always campaigned for a change in the attitudes of men, especially those who are conservative in their mind-sets— he says they are many in his region.

At the conclusion of the programme, he was elected a member of the potato value chain in Musanze District, which is headed by Mrs. Marie Chantal Mukeshimana and he says, he appreciates and has learnt a lot from her style of management.
TSM

 


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Created on 17 September 2013 Written by Gloria Iribagiza
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Co-operatives tackling malnutrition, attaining economic prowess


By Gloria Iribagiza
In Rwanda, agriculture cooperatives have been at the forefront of removing several barriers that women face in their roles as farm workers, food producers and primary caregivers. Through various programmes, trainings and awareness campaigns on how to use modern farming techniques, increased agricultural output is becoming achievable and inexpensive.

One of the beneficiaries of such initiatives is ‘Abaticumugambi _Kabuga’, a women’s only agriculture cooperative located in the Village of Raro, Kabuga. This is in the District of Kamonyi in Eastern Rwanda.

Patricie Ninyandwi, the soft-spoken President of the cooperative says the objective of the cooperative is to empower women, through focusing on small and large scale crop production and animal husbandry. Formerly a women’s farming association established in 2008, they legalized their status as a cooperative last year. This she says was mostly due to the benefits that are associated with working as a team in established cooperatives.

“The advantages of operating as a cooperative greatly outweigh those of an association,” Patricie says, adding that, “…I have watched the lives of the women we work with change daily.”

Ninety-four women are a"liated to the ‘Abaticumugambi _Kabuga’ cooperative. They focus mostly on farming crops such as plantains (bananas), beans, maize, cassava, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, pineapples, passion fruits and avocados in addition to animal husbandry where they rear cattle and pigs According to Patricie, they sell their commodities and products at the local district’s markets. They also take advantage of the annually organized trade-fairs such as the EXPO where they market, display and sell their products.

In Rwanda, over 80 percent of the rural population practices subsistence farming and of whom are mostly women and girls. On a global scale, widespread discrimination against women and girls, in the social, cultural and legal spheres, has led to lower agricultural productivity and poorer health and nutrition.

Challenges faced
According to Patricie, the cooperative’s challenges range from access to capital to venture into bigger projects, embracing ownership of their cooperative, low literacy levels as well as, having access to land to grow crops on a large scale.

ACCESS TO LAND
The women cooperative currently depends on breeding animals and growing crops on the few plots of land owned by their members, but they mostly rely on renting land to cultivate their crops.

Patricie says she is convinced that when they grow economically as a cooperative, they will be able to own land, “A lot is already being done by the government to make land accessible to women …and maybe at some point we shall also rent out our land for cultivation and make money.”
Rwanda is one of the few countries in Africa where women’s land rights have been placed at the heart of policy; a lot of work is being done to translate these land reforms into practical and fundamental solutions that benefit women in terms of having greater control over household incomes, improved agricultural production and enhances their position in the wider community.

According to a UN Women paper which examines gender equality in 49 African countries—Rwanda inclusive—specific reference to property rights and land ownership was highlighted.

Recently, a nationwide land tenure regularization programme was rolled out in Rwanda which systematically registered over 10.3million parcels of land. The results were more than a"rmative with about 66percent of women having security of tenure either individually or jointly with their husbands. Generally, overall statistics indicated that in Rwanda, 93 percent of women own public land either singly or jointly—the latter, mostly as agricultural cooperatives.

In light of this, when women have access to land inheritance and ownership, they are assured of progress due to security of tenure and are in a better position to make economically productive and informed decisions that empower them, their families and communities at large.

Reaping the benefits of team work At the initial stages of forming the cooperative, the women at ‘Abaticumugambi _Kabuga’ cooperative had to pay a membership fee of Rwf3000. The primary aim was to sustain their e!orts as women in the Kabuga farming community to succeed just as men were.

Being part of an agricultural cooperative, Patricie says, consequently led to, “… improved agricultural production and consequently leading healthy lifestyles within the women’s families.”
ACCESS TO CREDITS
“When we formed this cooperative, many women had no idea that they were in position to get loans and bank their money in order to gain interest,” Patricie said adding that, “…this lack of financial literacy among most women farmers in rural areas is a very big problem.”

Since she embraced her role as the president of the ‘Abaticumugambi _Kabuga’ women cooperative, Patricie says she had to deal with streamlining the shortfalls in management in order to empower the women to work as a team.

“At first it was quite di"cult for women to embrace the cooperative as their own; they always thought that someone would come and make everything easy for them, which was not helpful at all. “I knew we could have more opportunities if we agreed on many issues especially if we wanted to get financial help and loans for our projects and trainings,” she explained.

When Patricie was asked whether the cooperative members were knowledgeable about the existence of loans that help small scale farmers, she was quick to emphasise that the women are already benefiting from partnerships with financial institutions like Bank Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) and the Umurenge SACCOS schemes.

Accessing fertilizers and using selected seeds through cooperative bank loans has boosted their crop productivity. She says in the longrun, awareness trainings always pay o! because the women have learnt the benefits of working as a team within their cooperative.

“After several meetings we as women agreed to take charge of the cooperative as our initiative—it was a project for Rwandans by Rwandans,” she states.

TACKLING MALNUTRITION
Furthermore, a UN report on the Right to Food, ‘Gender Equality and Food Security – Women’s Empowerment as a Tool Against Hunger’, states that women and girls make up 60 percent of undernourished people in the world.

“We were not limited to growing crops by using modern methods of farming, but also gained education on how to prepare a balanced diet in order to eradicate malnutrition in our children and families,” Patricie said. In Rwanda, about 2 percent of children under-five years of age su!er from severe malnutrition, according to Ministry of Health indicators. Within the same age bracket, 11 percent of these children are underweight and 44 percent su!er from chronic malnutrition. These cases have been attributed to ignorance associated with parents especially mothers who do not know how to feed their children on a balanced diet.

Patricie cited community initiatives such as ‘Akagoroba k’ababyeyi’, a platform in several villages where women meet at cell-level to discuss ideas on best practices of improving their livelihoods, socially, economically and culturally—and overcoming malnutrition is a core topic of discussion.

The women in her cooperative have taken advantage of such platforms and are contributing towards encouraging other women farmers to join cooperatives. In addition, as a women’s agriculture cooperative, they ventured into acquiring Rwanda’s public medical health insurance (Mituelle de Sante) for all their members.

“We not only wanted to be economically empowered, but to be in position to access health services and facilities to ensure safe delivery at birth and buy medication at low costs,” Patricie said.

Therefore, by removing restrictions to accessing education, financial credit, employment opportunities and changing policies that allow women to own land, overall hunger can be overcome as women will be in a better position to earn decent wages and become economically independent.


CHANGING MINDSETS
Patricie attributes most of the cooperative’s success to a change in mindset among the women. For example, the cooperative president says, “at the start of the association, most women believed that they had no major roles to play in their community because they were not educated enough, or that they couldn’t make life changing decisions on their own unless their husbands made them.”

This myth was challenged after a series of campaigns by their village local leaders, government o"cials and Non-Government Organisations that facilitated several programmes.

“We now know that our well-being and that of our families is our responsibility,” Patricie says and, “…are have taken charge of our problems and are enlightened when it comes to expressing our rights as women for example; we are now in position to handle Gender-Based violence cases in our homes and communities.”

In order to lay lasting foundations for a better future for their children, the women had to denounce wrong mentalities in their community and homes—the cooperative’s members begun to see the importance of ensuring that their daughters remained in school in acknowledgement that their education was as important as that of the boys.

A study by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that closing the gender gap between women and men, in accessing productive resources such as land, credit, machinery or chemicals and fertilisers, could eliminate crop yield gaps of 20 to 30 percent. This would in turn increase domestic agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent; meaning that there would be approximately 100 million fewer people living in hunger. TSM

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