Top 5 Rural and Urban activists transforming women's lives Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) in Rwanda.

Agriculture is one of the most widespread activities in the world and has a crucial role in food production, environmental protection, landscape preservation, rural employment and food security. From a gender perspective, women play vital roles in life-pillar, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report (2015). Women are the backbone of the development of rural and national economies. They comprise 43% of the world's agricultural labor force, which rises to 70% in some countries. In Africa, 80% of the agricultural production comes from smallholder farmers, who are mostly rural women. In Rwanda, the agriculture labor force mostly comprises poor women (86%) with lowest levels of schooling.

As a result, women remain in the subsistence agriculture of different staple crops including Sweetpotato. As the world’s men and women join hands and hearts to celebrate the 2018 International Women’s Day, it is imperative to look back and recognize some of the brave women who are making a difference in transformation of their communities with support of the Rwanda orange-fleshed sweetpotato(OFSP) projects implemented by the International Potato Center (CIP) and the government of Rwanda with financial support from the USAID, DFID and numerous other development partners.

Epiphanie gathers under-nourished children of her community to feed them with OFSP based balanced meals

1. Ahezanaho Epiphanie is a 42-year old mother of six and a farmer living in North West of Rubavu District. Since she got married in early 1991, Ahezanaho has relied on subsistence agriculture to earn a living. In late 2015, Ahezanaho got a reprieve when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through CIP, identified her household as one of the hundreds of highly vulnerable in terms of malnutrition, requiring interventions. Ahezanaho, like many other farmers who have been introduced to OFSP farming, is now living her dream and shares it with her counterparts in the neighboring communities. She now sells OFSP green leaves in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and back home. She also teams up with the Government Community Health Worker to eradicate malnutrition, teaching the neighbors how to prepare healthy and nutritious dishes using OFSP. Read more

Christine showing off OFSP-based doughnuts, made by INDYO INOZE Cooperative, founded and led by herself.

2. Christine Nyirahabimana, an agronomist with Young Women Christian Association (YWCA-Rwanda) supported by CIP provides agricultural advice and technical support to the YWCA staff and assists them in supporting the local community to access, produce, and harvest and add value to their sweetpotato produce through innovative ways of linking them to local markets. Christine, with guidance of CIP, created INDYO INOZE cooperative, composed of dozens of women all, grounded to sweetpotato farming. The cooperative she assists, started cultivating OFSP in 2012 under the CIP-led SASHA (Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa) project. Other projects including Scaling Up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) and Feed the Future Rwanda OFSP for income and nutrition activity are now building upon the cooperative’s strong links to local farmers and markets to establish a more reliable and profitable market for OFSP in Rwanda. Read more

Drocella formed a community -based youth farmer group, to explore opportunities in sweetpotato farming.

3. Drocella Yankulije: CIP has been working in Rwanda to promote OFSP for a number of years and in 2013, CIP designed the SUSTAIN Rwanda project together with the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) with the specific aim of disseminating OFSP technologies to smallholder farmers and to then link these farmers to markets for fresh roots and commercial processors. Drocella Yankulije is a local OFSP farmer who benefited from the increase in popularity of the crop from local consumers and public and private sector outlets. Although the project phased out, Drocella did not retire from proliferating the fruits of the project. She took up an initiative of gathering all orphan and jobless youth in her community to start up an all-together adventure of growing these OFSP varieties. The produce of the farmer group is sold to the nearer markets and local processors and the income generated is shared to pay off their basic needs such as health insurances which they otherwise used to get through illicit activities of robbery and selling drugs. Read more

1st from Right- Margaret, the manager of KOTEMU Cooperative posing with some group members who run the OFSP roadside market Rulindo.

4.Margaret Muhayimana, is a leader of Koperative Terimbere Muhinzi (KOTEMU) farmer group. She has seen her life transformed since she began planting OFSP in early 2012 when she started working with CIP. Land holdings in Rwanda are small, a typical farmer like Margaret, only has just over a half an acre. Women rarely earn a continuous income from farming. They grow the typical crops such as beans and maize. They save some of their harvest for the household consumption and sell the rest on the open market. It is not enough to make ends meet let alone pay for school fees, which often extends the cycle of poverty to the next generation. As a single-mother and the only breadwinner for her family, Margaret faced additional financial hardships. She explains that over the last six years through the proceeds she’s earned selling OFSP vines and roots not only has she been able to pay school fees, she has also been able to make substantive improvements to her family’s well-being including: rebuilding her house, getting connected to the electrical grid, purchasing a dairy cow, paying for health insurance every year, and installing a biogas unit for producing gas for household use. Margaret went beyond securing needs of her family and invested her time and knowledge to support her fellow farmers gathered in KOTEMU cooperative that she manages since 2012. Margaret led her group of 26 women to a successful sweetpotato market, just located on the Kigali-Rubavu highway as a strategic place to catch passengers travelling to and from Kigali. Read more

Francine Uwamahoro employs 6 women in her sweetpotato farm yards in Rwamagana.

5.Tired of being a house wife, one day, Francine found an answer to self-empowerment through being an OFSP Decentralized Vine Multiplier (DVM). As a house wife, Francine was always dissatisfied of her worth. She always dreamed to do more than just sitting home, looking after her two children and husband. “I saw myself not useful in my family as I should. I wanted to at least be productive in the house where everything that had to be done was after my husband’s intervention, “Says Francine. The brave woman did not enjoy finding refuge in sweetpotato farming business in solo. She employed several other women that shared the same problem before then. “Because we have spent quite some time working on this field, Francine did not only give us our daily pay, she also gave us vines to grow in our homes. We found a sort of permanent job here and this varieties of sweetpotato have been very different to us in a sense that they provided employment and foods to our families. Says Stephania, one of the 6 women permanently working with Francine in her OFSP farm yards. Read more

Created By
Aime Ndayisenga


Aime Ndayisenga , Hugh Rutherford , Donata Kiiza

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