Empowering women farmers of Rwanda through mobile technology

Farmers in Rwanda now know the exact size of their land, can better forecast production and access markets through digital, mobile-enabled platform supported by UN Women and World Food Programme. What’s more, the programme is bridging gender equality gaps in agriculture and ensuring women’s equal participation in the value chain.

Date: Thursday, October 13, 2016

Farmers in Rwanda use the mobile platform to connect to the agricultural supply chain via text messages.
Farmers in Rwanda use the mobile platform to connect to the agricultural supply chain via text messages. Photo: UN Women

In Gasovu, Muhanga District, a small village in Rwanda’s Southern Province, if you walk past the fields of maize mid-day, you’ll find women farmers sitting in a circle, using their smartphones as they take a break.  But they are not checking Facebook updates or Twitter streams; they are getting crucial weather and market information that will help them grow and sell their crops. And, it’s revolutionizing their farming and marketing skills.

“Before, we used to struggle to know the exact size of our land,” says Christine Mukarukundo, a maize farmer and member of the Tuzamurane Cyeza Cooperative in Muhanga district. “As a result, farmers were unable to predict their level of production, which made negotiating with buyers and financial institutions difficult.”

Through a digital, mobile-enabled “Buy from Women” platform, farmers can know the exact size of their land and forecast the production. The platform connects small holder farmers (men and women) to the agricultural supply and value chain and provides them with critical information on weather, market prices and incoming opportunities via text messages.

Farmers in Gasovu, Muhanga District, a small village in Rwanda’s Southern Province. Photo:  UN Women
Farmers in Gasovu, Muhanga District, a small village in Rwanda’s Southern Province. Photo:  UN Women

UN Women, in partnership with World Food Programme’s Patient Procurement Platform (PPP), launched this innovative platform in June 2016, and it will be implemented in 10 cooperatives over the course of the next nine months. In total, 699 women from two farming cooperatives in Gatsibo district in Eastern Province and one in Muhanga district in Southern Province have already registered. The registration process for the platform includes a mapping of farmers’ land plots, which is then used to generate a yield forecast.

The platform improves farmers’ capacity to produce marketable surplus, provides real time financial information and increases their market access, especially for women farmers, who were traditionally not involved in all parts of the value chain. Now both women and men farmers can negotiate better deals with buyers and financial institutions. In fact, some participating cooperatives have already signed advance contracts with reputed buyers, such as the Rwanda Grains and Cereals Corporation.

“We used to sign contracts with buyers and not be able to meet its terms, especially related to supplies, because farmers would sell part of their produce on the side. Now with this system, everyone will know in advance the quantity of produce that he or she is required to bring at the Cooperative, and this will motivate everyone to meet the requirement and aim to produce surplus,” explains Beatrice Mukanoheli, another member and adviser of the Tuzamurane Cyeza Cooperative.

With real-time information that the platform provides, farmers are also able to make better decisions to adapt to climate variability by adjusting the planting time and making better use of fertilizers.

Ambassador Pan Hejun of China (pictured at left) visited the Buy from Women programme site along with UN officials. Photo: UN Women/Tumaini Ochieng
Ambassador Pan Hejun of China (pictured at left) visited the Buy from Women programme site along with UN officials. Photo: UN Women/Tumaini Ochieng

The programme, currently in its pilot phase, has received financial support from the Government of China. Visiting the programme site, Ambassador of China, Mr. Pan Hejun said, “China is committed to providing technical support to Rwanda, especially in relation to technology development in agriculture. Agriculture is an important sector to the Chinese economy as it is in Rwanda.”

By focusing on women’s empowerment, the programme is also educating farmers on gender equality issues, with the aim of bridging the gender gap in agriculture and ensuring women’s equal participation in all areas of the value chain, including in the front line negotiations and decision-making.  Following the harvest season and assessment of the programme next year, UN Women plans to scale it up in other parts of Rwanda.