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Creating entrepreneurs in Rwanda

Daphrose is respected by men and women in her community for her knowledge and business skills (© Oxfam/Simon Rawles)
Daphrose is respected by men and women in her community for her knowledge and business skills
© Oxfam/Simon Rawles

"Before I received training from Duterimbere I thought that hard work was just for the husband," says Rwandan pineapple farmer, Daphrose Nyirankundabanyanga. "I thought my work was staying at home, looking after the children and doing simple tasks; but Duterimbere's training changed my mind." Now a successful pineapple producer and community facilitator, Daphrose's hard work and business skills are inspiring and empowering many other women in her community, who have seen their status, income and relationships with their husbands transformed through becoming rural entrepreneurs. What's more, the changes are being achieved in a country where, despite one third of households being headed by women following the tragic events of the early 1990s, women's status in the country has remained low, with rural women typically needing to accept poorly paid work as labourers on the land of wealthier families in order to make ends meet.

Pineapple potential

In 2010, the Oxfam/Duterimbere project, which falls under Oxfam's Women's Economic Leadership Programme, identified production of pineapple suckers as a viable starter enterprise for women with little or no land. Large-scale pineapple farming is popular in Rwanda, but until recently most planting material has had to be imported from Uganda and is often infected with disease. Under the project, 25 female facilitators, including Daphrose, were trained in a cost-effective propagation technique, which enables 20 or more suckers to be produced from a single pineapple crown. The technique makes very efficient use of small pieces of land; from a 10m x 10m plot a woman can get as many as 10,000 suckers to sell.

Community facilitators provide training and support to women establishing new farming businesses (© Oxfam/Simon Rawles)
Community facilitators provide training and support to women establishing new farming businesses
© Oxfam/Simon Rawles

Since a pilot phase began in 2010, over 800 women in four districts have been trained in the technique. Capital for the rental of land and purchase of pineapple crowns has come through Duterimbere's micro-finance programme, with women forming six-member solidarity groups in order to act as guarantors for each other and gain credit. Payback periods are long and linked to harvest times and once women have been part of a successful group loan they build a credit history that allows them to borrow money individually. One hundred women have also been trained in enterprise development, including how to set up and run a producer group; these skills and knowledge will now be passed on by them to more women, through a further training programme.

Marketing is key

Marketing of pineapple suckers has proved challenging, with women typically only managing to sell around a third of what they have grown. Some, such as Daphrose, have rented more land in order to use their suckers for fruit production; the project has also sponsored media advertising and a TV documentary to make national buyers aware of the women as a new supply source. A regional growers' forum is also being set up to connect buyers and sellers, and both businesses and government officials are being targeted through publication of a manual evaluating the project's impact and through exposure visits to the farms. This will boost advocacy efforts to have similar activities replicated more widely in the country, and achieve recognition for Rwandan women as productive, skilled operators within a value chain - a role that has long been regarded as one for men only.

First steps towards change

The pineapple propagation method produces large numbers of disease-free suckers from a single crown (© Oxfam/Simon Rawles)
The pineapple propagation method produces large numbers of disease-free suckers from a single crown
© Oxfam/Simon Rawles

Saverina Mukarunyana, who started producing pineapple suckers in 2010, illustrates how introducing women to one viable business is a stepping stone to greater changes. "Entrepreneurism is a very good word which means a lot to me," she says. "It means I can think for myself and not only grow pineapple suckers but start another business. In the future I want to be a paint supplier, to mix the different substances for people to decorate their homes. If I get another loan, I will start businesses like this to diversify what I do."

Daphrose is also positive about the changes seen in her household. "As a pineapple sucker producer, I am not always begging for money from my husband, and this prevents family conflict," she says. "Now my husband helps me and I help him. When we agree on something we want to happen, we can achieve it because we complement each other." John Bosco Hakizimana, a programme officer with Duterimbere, is sure that such household changes are needed if women's status at community level is also to change. "If you can't talk openly in your own house you can't have a voice outside either," he says. "But if you can advise your own husband at home and he listens, you can advise anyone. Giving women a voice at home comes first."

Date published: March 2013

 

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The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

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