Youth Engagement in Agriculture Improves Access to Digital Technology and Extension in Rwanda

Youth Engagement in Agriculture Improves Access to Digital Technology and Extension in Rwanda

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In Rwanda, only 3.18 million out of 7.75 million individuals of working-age are employed, and the number has declined by more than 13 percent since August 2020. The agriculture sector also lost upwards of 47,000 jobs while the unemployment rate stayed relatively high at 25.5 percent among the youth population (National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda).

Linking youth to agriculture can significantly contribute to innovation, job creation and agriculture sector development. The USAID-funded Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze activity works to attract youth in agriculture by increasing agricultural productivity, employing youth through internships, improving access to finance and strengthening youth capacity in digital and private sector extension. Since 2017, the Activity has reached 733,000 individuals, of whom over 24 percent were youth.

To support the development of youth entrepreneurs, the Hinga Weze Activity provided internships to over 200 youth and awarded $92,647 in youth-specific grants for companies including Mahwi Tech, Carl Group, Zima Enterprise and KOTIB. Using the grant funds, Mahwi Tech was able to transform its M-LIMA platform, a youth-owned agricultural market information platform, into an online marketplace that can serve the dual purposes of providing market information and facilitating market linkages. Similarly, technology company BK TecHouse was able to expand its online Smart Nkunganire System to support over 200,000 new farmers, including 51,324 youth, by improving their agricultural input and information distribution and digitalizing their agrodealer operations through a Mobile Order Processing Application.

Hinga Weze’s activities also strengthened youth capacity in extension by including youth in digital extension programming, integrating youth in public and private extension services and providing youth-friendly approaches to extension and farming through the New Extensionist Learning Kit (NELK). Hinga Weze trained 133 youth on the use of digital extension, 15 youth on digital extension content creation and 21 youth on extension video dissemination. To date, these youth produced six videos on improved maize cultivation and helped train 4,000 farmers on maize production techniques using the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International’s (CABI) App—a mobile learning application focused on the production, harvest and post-harvest management of maize.

“Youth in Rwanda have quickly adopted information communication technology (ICT) tools and platforms. By using youth to customize and promote digital technologies, the Activity is supporting the advancement of ICT and transforming the way agricultural technologies are transferred to smallholder farmers,” highlighted Laurence Mukamana, Hinga Weze Chief of Party.

While Hinga Weze continued to utilize traditional extension methodologies to help farmers adopt climate-smart and other good agriculture practices, such as on-site coaching and Farmer Field Schools, the Activity also partnered with master trainers from the Rwanda Agriculture Board and the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources to help youth expand engagement, training and digital tools to extension agents and farmers through the Government of Rwanda’s Twigire Muhinzi national extension program. By leveraging existing government and private sector structures, Hinga Weze was able to create ownership and ensure the sustainability of promoted practices and methodologies beyond the life of the activity.

New Terraces Increase Crop Yields and Incomes for Farmers

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Farmers get better yields and generate income from terraced land in seven districts.

Nyabihu district is renowned for its scenic hills and steep terrain, with an elevation estimated at 2,445 meters above sea level. However, for farmers like Seraphine Nyirarubanza, a resident of Rurembo sector, it is a daunting task to cultivate on the steep slopes.

Seraphine Nyirarubanza, Farmer, Nyabihu district

In this region of Rwanda, crops and fertile topsoil are frequently washed downhill by rain, causing reduced soil fertility and a decline in crop productivity.  To support over 5,620 farmers growing crops across this region, including Nyirarubanza and the members of her cooperative, the Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze activity constructed and rehabilitated approximately 818.85 ha of radical and progressive terraces. Funded by USAID and implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), Hinga Weze aims to sustainably improve agricultural productivity, increase smallholder farmers’ incomes and improve nutritional status of women and children.

Together, Nyirarubanza and 164 other cooperative members offered their paid labor to construct the terraces, a task that involved setting up a drainage system around the plots by establishing cut-off drains, waterways and dams. The cooperative also planted grasses, such as French Cameroun, to protect the drainage systems and embankments.

As part of Hinga Weze’s integration model, the planted grass was also used as livestock feed, with the residue turned into manure and added to artificial fertilizers to improve soil fertility. Additionally, producers were encouraged to re-use topsoil removed during the terrace development phase, to add in three tons of lime per ha every three years to cultivate healthy soil and to add 10 to 30 tons of organic manure per ha per season to reduce soil acidity and improve fertility.

Many farmers quickly reaped the fruits of their labor. For example, at the Muhanda site in the Ngororero district, farmers planted Irish potatoes on 40 ha and increased their yield four-fold from five tons to 21 tons per ha, worth approximately $167,000 (173,677,500 RWF).

Nyirarubanza’s hard work also proved beneficial. “I used to harvest only 200 kgs on my 20-acre plot,” she said. “But after learning to terrace and apply fertilizers and manure, I am now able to harvest 400 kg.”

With the completion of progressive and radical terraces, farmers like Nyirarubanza are assured of improved yields and higher quality crops of maize, high-iron beans, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes and various other horticultural produce, some of the key commodities in the region. These yields also translate to higher income generation and improved food security.

Poultry Farming Through Care Group Model Transforms Rural Livelihoods

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Through the care group model, farmers have transformed their livelihoods

Nutrition continues to be a major public health concern in Rwanda, with 38% of children under five classified as stunted and 9% of children under five manifesting as underweight (RDHS 2014-2015). One significant contributor to stunting is a lack of dietary diversity among Rwandan children due to a lack of animal-source protein consumption, which can provide a variety of micronutrients that are difficult to obtain in adequate quantities from plant-source foods alone.

Dietary diversity is also a significant challenge in the ten target districts where the Feed the Future Rwandan Hinga Weze activity operates, including in Nyamagabe and Kayonza. To overcome this challenge, Hinga Weze adapted the care group model and mobilized households to join care groups as a conducive space for nutrition-sensitive agricultural education, peer learning, saving and chicken rearing to increase income and the consumption of nutritious foods for women and children.

Since 2018, Hinga Weze has worked with communities to strengthen the capacity of care groups through trainings and coaching, mostly in good agricultural practices, nutrition, food safety, savings, gender and poultry farming. In Kayonza and Nyamagabe districts, Hinga Weze also introduced the Small Livestock Program to improve the intake of animal-sourced foods by increasing the local availability of small livestock, mainly chickens. This, in turn, helped families generate household income to purchase nutritious foods, while increasing access to meat and eggs for consumption.

So far, 46 care groups have received 9,200 chickens through Hinga Weze’s Small Livestock Program. After receiving and rearing their chickens, care group members were able to pay back $400 (400,000 RWF) through a pay-back model and to fund a second chicken production cycle. Care groups have also been able to generate incomes from egg sales, distribute 15 eggs for consumption to each member per month and use organic chicken manure in crop production and home gardens.

“Due to lack of skills and knowledge related to nutrition-sensitive agriculture and nutrition, we were ignorant about what contributed to malnutrition in our area,” says Masengesho, the leader of Imbereheza care group in Kayonza district.

The care group trainings equipped communities with skills on chicken farming, feed formulation and chicken rearing. For example, many care groups were supported to raise one-day old chicks, while some have even become agents for Uzima Chicken, a local chicken supplier. Similarly, Wisigarinyuma care group was able to raise 1000 one-day-old chicks until 35 days and sell 840 chicks to farmers outside of their care group.

Hinga Weze’s Small Livestock Program also provided a full package for supply agents and farmers to care for their chickens, which included vaccines and specialized technical trainings on chicken maintenance, poultry house standards, feeds, transportation, marketing, business development and general health standards for poultry businesses. This made the Small Livestock Program a de-facto business-provider for farmers and a nutritional conduit for households.

In addition to the chickens distributed as part of the Small Livestock Program, Hinga Weze distributed 86,400 chickens to 14,400 households (six chickens per household) across eight districts, which has greatly contributed to improving nutrition and dietary diversity. Through their weekly savings and joint household budgeting, farmers have increased their incomes and improved their livelihoods at the household level.

Hinga Weze is a five-year project funded by the USAID that aims to sustainably improve agricultural productivity, increase smallholder farmers’ incomes and improve the nutritional status of women and children.

Ailing Fruit Project Saved by New Solar Irrigation

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Farmer Jean Claude Sindikubwabo (35) has experienced a long and painful journey from the time he started farming in 2014. Like most beginners, he started off on the wrong foot, seeing losses on his first vegetable harvest mainly due to a lack of knowledge and unconducive weather conditions around Bugesera, one of Rwanda’s driest districts. Unfortunately, he never fully recovered from that bad start until much later in November 2019, when he received an approx. $4,000 (RWF 4 million) bank loan to invest in watermelon farming that matured the following year in March 2020. By bad luck, that coincided with the first total lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic! The project was doomed without access to markets. The pain of watching his produce rot in the garden and the thought of the unpaid bank loan were too much to bear. Sindikubwabo needed urgent help.

That same year, Sindikubwabo joined 63 farmers on Kamabuye solar irrigation site, one of the sites set up in the four districts of Gatsibo, Ngoma, Kayonza and Bugesera by the Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze Activity and the Rwanda Agricultural and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB). Funded by USAID, Hinga Weze mobilized the farmers into a cooperative and coached them on good farming and climate smart practices. Hinga Weze aims to improve productivity and incomes for 535,000 farmers, improve nutritional intake for women and children and build the resilience of agriculture to climate changes.

Fully equipped with new skills, Sindikubwabo returned to farming. He also learned to diversify and grow other crops, which he marketed ahead of harvest time in order to minimize losses. Last season alone, Sindikubwabo sold 178 sacks of green pepper and nine tons of watermelon for a combined total of approx. $3,059 (RWF 3,080,000). This adds to $5,294,907 (approx. RWF 5 billion) gained by farmers in sales value for horticulture. Like the other 12,000 farmers on solar-irrigation sites across the four districts, Sindikubwabo is able to plant vegetables and fruits all-year around, unlike previously when they would wait for favorable seasons.

“I’m able to pump water upstream for irrigation without spending a lot of money on fuel and labor,” observed Sindikubwabo. He was also able to use profits from farming to set up a permanent house and a piggery project. He employees four permanent staff and 25 casual laborers, whom he supports with soft loans and vegetables for their families’ welfare.

As Hinga Weze winds up, Sindikubwabo has paid off 90 percent of the bank loan and is now planning to expand his farming business.

Provincial Study Tour Promotes Stronger Agricultural Technology Enabling Environment

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As technology plays a larger role in increasing agricultural productivity, enhancing competitivity and lowering barriers to access, the adoption of affordable, appropriate agricultural technologies has become essential to improve rural incomes and livelihoods. In Pakistan, USAID-funded Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity’s (PATTA) partners closely with Provincial Agriculture Departments to increase farmers’ access to these technologies and support the modernization of farming communities across the country.

As part of this government collaboration, PATTA organized a four-day study tour to Punjab province in early 2021 for government officials from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The tour aimed to facilitate knowledge sharing between the two governments and to showcase the Government of Punjab’s new agricultural initiatives—specifically the region’s agricultural call centers, which were established during COVID-19 as a socially distant way to promote good agricultural practices, improved inputs and technologies and regional extension services to smallholder farmers.

On-site demo of high-tech precision agriculture technologies by Farm Dynamics Pakistan.

On the tour, KP officials observed a data collection system and a live stream of farmer queries and technical expert responses at a call center for extension services. Punjab officials also briefed attendees on their SMART agriculture initiative, which improves soil and productivity by issuing soil health cards, profiling the soil on farmers’ fields and conducting data recording and traceability analyses. They further shared key best practices including their International Organization for Standardization (ISO): 17025 analytical laboratory certification systems and their ability to improve analyses of soil, water, agrochemicals and fertilizer traceability.

In addition to meeting with government officials in Punjab, attendees visited several of PATTA’s private-sector partners. To demonstrate how these partners manage their agriculture and livestock technology businesses, the group toured agricultural machinery production facilities and a model slaughterhouse and were given an on-site demonstration of high-tech precision agriculture technologies.

The study tour not only strengthened linkages between officials and private sector actors from KP and Punjab, but it also showcased ways to improve KP’s agricultural productivity through the use of modern technologies. The leader of the KP delegation, KP Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Dr. Israr Ahmad Khan, expressed his appreciation for PATTA’s work to organize the visit and emphasized his government’s support for future collaboration with PATTA and its agribusiness partners.

By facilitating linkages and collaboration between provincial governments, PATTA helps modernize the agriculture sector in Pakistan and strengthen the enabling environment for agricultural technology adoption. This improved enabling environment will support PATTA’s work to lift barriers, enable awareness, and promote agricultural technology uptake across the country’s provinces, benefitting 132,506 small farmers by the end of 2021.

Sharing Agricultural Best Practices: Rootstalks and Grafting with Mother Plants

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The USAID Agriculture Program in Georgia demonstrates best practices for handing rootstocks and grafting with mother plants.

Sharing Agricultural Best Practices: Grafting Techniques to Improve Budding and Horticulture Production

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The USAID Agriculture Program in Georgia demonstrates best practices for grafting plants to enhance budding and horticulture production.

Sharing Agricultural Best Practices: Extracting and Preparing Seedlings for Sale

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The USAID Agriculture Program in Georgia demonstrates best practices for extracting and preparing plant seedlings for sale.

 

Amalima

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Overview:

Amalima, the seven-year (2013-2020), $60 million USAID Development Food Aid Program (DFAP), worked with over 118,000 vulnerable households to sustainably improve household food security and nutrition in Zimbabwe’s districts of Bulilima, Gwanda, Mangwe (Matabeleland South), and Tsholotsho (Matabeleland North). 

Amalima draws its name from the Ndebele word for the social contract by which families come together to help each other engage in productive activities such as land cultivation, livestock tending and asset building. 

Approach:

  1. Improved Sustainable Access to and Availability of Food: Amalima promoted climate and conservation-sensitive agriculture practices and encouraged the adoption of improved agriculture and livestock production practices.
  2. Strengthened Community Resilience to Shocks: The program partnered with communities to improve livelihoods and build resilience by creating and strengthening disaster risk reduction (DRR) committees through cash for asset activities, household asset vouchers and village savings and lending (VS&L) groups that promoted income-generating activities and savings to build household resilience.
  3. Improved Nutrition and Health: To improve Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices, dietary diversity and micronutrient intake of pregnant and lactating women and children under two, Amalima distributed supplementary feeding rations and enhanced nutrition care practices with a combination of capacity building, mentioning and community-based messaging delivered through care groups and community health clubs.
  4. Promoted Gender Equality: Amalima empowered women to play a key role in food security and resiliency at the household and community levels through increased access to and control over incomes, which promoted men and women to take increasingly equal responsibilities for both productive and reproductive activities.

Partners: