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Civil society seeks additional public investment for Women Smallholder Farmers

Rwandan women smallholder farmers are the backbone of Rwanda’s agriculture and feed millions of mouths with the fruits of their labour. This is because they make up 80 per cent of the population of smallholder farmers around the country.

Therefore, since women farmers are the backbone of Rwanda’s agricultural sector, better government policies and budget allocations that address their needs are critical for boosting their productivity and ensuring food security. While Rwanda , just like other African governments have committed to increase spending on agriculture to ten percent of their national budgets, through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) Maputo Declaration of 2003, our research shows that the government has yet delivered on this promise.

 For instance, in the new financial year June 2014/15, the government has only allocated Rwf90.3 billion directly to agriculture of the total Rwf1, 75 trillion budget. “Rwanda has shown dedication to addressing hunger by increasing investments in the agriculture sector. Based on our experience with women’s farmers groups in Rwanda, we believe that the country can further build on these positive steps by ensuring that more of its agricultural investment reaches women smallholder farmers, who produce the majority of the country’s food,” says Josephine Uwamariya, Country Director for ActionAid Rwanda. ActionAid under its Public Financing for Agriculture Project has identified agricultural inputs (seeds and fertilizers), agricultural extension services, financial services, energy saving and labour technologies as the main issues that it will continue to monitor and advocate for.

 A field trip to subsistent women farmers in rural Rwanda, shows that limited financing and insufficient budget in agriculture leaves women small holder farmers practically inactive in a country that is ambitiously driving to lift three more million out of poverty.

This is in addition to limited access to timely delivered inputs; inconsistency of extension services and lack of access to finance among others.

“There is a need to create a bigger special fund, especially if the government doesn’t allocate enough money in the budget, so that we can reach six per cent growth in the sector,” said Elisabeth Nyirakabanda who is in a cooperative of maize farmers in Gitesi sector of Karongi district. The ideal programme, according to the farmers is that the government would have invested in ox ploughs, an appropriate technology that helps the farmer open his gardens in time, plant in time unlike the hand hoe which has perpetuated them into farming from hand to mouth.

 

“The government did not push for a cheaper and affordable technology, like using bulls to farm, which we can easily afford, the tractors are not cost effective,” said Theophile Nikuze from women cooperatives in Muko sector of  Musanze district. In the proposed budget, rural development was allocated 14 per cent. Agriculture took 6.6 per cent going but a further breakdown of the allocation shows that 5.2 per cent was allocate to the ministry of agriculture while 1.4 per cent to the districts.

“This is below the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) pledge by countries of which Rwanda also committed itself to allocate 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture, Sula Nuwamanya, the officer in charge of partnership and communications at ActionAid Rwanda. Mr Nuwamanya explained that Rwanda joined a group of African countries to make commitment to allocate at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to develop the agricultural sector by 2008. This initiative became necessary following the adoption of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP)-a brain child of the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development. It was hoped that the 10 per cent allocation of national budgets to the agricultural sector would trigger a 6 per cent growth in the sector per annum and would result into food security and poverty reduction, especially among smallholder farmers.

 The great commitment and support the women smallholders farmers have received from government notwithstanding, Rwandan women are still struggling and leaders who deal with these farmers are asking the government to increase its budget allocation or come up with a special fund to drive this development in the sector.

Some studies have shown that when women farmers have access to resources, they are more productive than men farmers. The most quoted documented case is in Kenya where the productivity of male-managed plots was 8 per cent higher than from female managed plots. But when women used the same resources as men, their productivity would increase by 22 per cent. And because most of the women do not own land, they are denied access to financing which is needed to practice modern farming. But a number of women in Rwanda still complain about lack of collateral requirement by financial lending institutions before loans are given to them which lock them out of the credit lines.

 

Most women lease plots of lands to grow crops. This means they cannot secure loan because we they can’t present hired land as collaterals. Edward Karangwa, in charge of Agriculture Public Finance at the ActionAid said the Rwandan smallholder farmer still faces insufficient supply of affordable fertilizers and inconsistent distribution of seeds which very often are not properly tested, and lead to different diseases in fields. The programme of mechanization agriculture production has also not benefited the majority of the population for number reasons, however the most cited is that the poor woman farmer cannot afford the cost of a tractor.

It is against this background that they question the rationale why government invested a hooping $4 million in buying 370 tractors and power tillers which has mostly benefited commercial farmers. Mr Nuwamanya said analysis of information from women smallholder farmers shows “they have interests and capacity to boost agriculture, but they cannot easily access resources from financial institutions.”

He suggests that more funds should be allocated to village cooperative saving societies where women can easily access the finance.

According to Angelique Dusenge, an officer at a local women’s NGO –Twese Hamwe says women lack the capacity to write business proposals that would help them access funding from banks.

“We still have a task of sensitizing women to form cooperatives so that they can be eligible to access loans from financial institutions,” she said.

During a post budget debate organized by ActionAid Rwanda at Lemigo hotel in Kigali, participants underscored that empowering women economically, requires addressing the underlying causes of income inequalities. Participants also observed that labour and time-saving technologies and practices that contribute to reducing women’s workload and save them time are an important aspect to address if market development programmes are to succeed in empowering women, both socially and economically.

Women also need assistance to develop the capacity necessary in order to increase their incomes. For this, a vital first step is to provide them with training as well as agricultural inputs and credit so that they can produce more, aggregate their crops, and market them collectively. However, giving women farmers the tools to produce more and market their crops does not guarantee that they will be able to do so or benefit economically from their work.