Closing the Gender Gap: How a Rural Women’s Initiative Is Planting Seeds of Change in Rwanda

Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga
World Food Programme
Published December 28, 2021

In sub-Saharan Africa, over 60 percent of women work in agriculture. Yet, women’s potential as farmers and entrepreneurs is often limited due to gender inequalities and little access to farming tools like seeds and fertilizers.

In Rwanda, where nearly 70 percent of women are work in agriculture, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have started a program with partners that aims to:

  • empower rural women by reducing gender inequalities and poverty
  • reduce hunger levels
  • foster pathways for women to be leaders, decisionmakers and agents of change
female farmer kneeling on ground and holding up fruit
Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

A project backed by the U.N. World Food Programme and partners in Nyaruguru district in southern Rwanda is empowering women with agricultural and business skills.

“I used to be very shy and felt unable to talk in front of people, especially in the presence of men. Now I feel more empowered and confident,” said Marie-Rose, one of 2,000 farmers in 19 cooperatives in Rwanda supported by the rural women’s economic empowerment program.

woman in green dress kneeling on ground and farming
Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

“My leadership skills gave me the confidence to campaign and win a seat as a member of the National Women’s Council in my district,” said Marie-Rose. “And my grafting business has also enabled me to buy a cow and pay for my family’s medical insurance.”

Through the program, farmers are taught:

  • entrepreneurial skills such as public speaking
  • innovative farming skills like grafting (a gardening technique which joins two plants in one to make a hybrid)
  • best harvesting practices
  • contract negotiation skills
farmers holding up vegetables in garden
Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

Despite women being the largest contributors to the agricultural sector, they are often excluded from decisionmaking within their households and communities. The potential economic gains from reducing gender gaps in agriculture can translate into significant poverty reduction and improved nutritional benefits for rural women and their families.

Program participants have also noticed nutritional benefits for their communities and increased profits.

“We grow tomatoes, beetroots, carrots, cabbages and bell peppers which are sold locally says Anastasie, president of the B’impundunka-Nyagisozi cooperative which was started in 2017.

“This means that local families have access to fresh vegetables and means profits for cooperative members.”

woman with chickens in backyard
Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

The success of the cooperatives is inspiring others to start their own businesses. “I saw that the chickens from cooperative members were laying many eggs and this inspired me to buy my own and start a business,” said Anastasia, a mother of six living near the Abahangudushya women’s cooperative.

Agriculture is the backbone of Rwanda’s economy. Through programs such as this rural women’s initiative, the U.N. World Food Programme is helping female farmers strengthen their technical skills and grow brighter, healthier futures.

This story originally appeared on WFP’s Stories on December 6, 2021 and was written by JohnPaul Sesonga. 

The U.N. World Food Programme works with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and UN Women to promote gender equality across all its programs in Rwanda and provides food assistance in a manner that makes equal resources available to women and men. The Rural Women’s Empowerment program is also implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal and Niger.