Outside of the northern city of Ruhangeri, Rwanda, near the volcanoes and a cultural center, a host of villages sit amongst potato, corn and pyrethrum fields. The area is designated to grow these three crops. Their potatoes feed a good portion of Rwandan mouths but people in the area usually only eat potatoes once a month. Recently the price of a kilo of potatoes went from 120Rwf to 60Rwf – a travesty of a price plunge. Yet most of the famers are not even landowners themselves. Wealthier individuals own large plots of land where the crops grow and people actually living in the area are highly impoverished and largely food insecure. There is not enough land or the commitment to have strategic home gardens that can really produce enough to feed their families.
Community members referenced past projects and their failures. One Oxfam project gave them seeds but when they got the seeds it was the dry season and they didn’t grow. The farmers didn’t realize it would be dry season because in past years they had received rain during that time of year. They mentioned that it was probably due to industry that contributes to climate change. They have been planting according to the seasons for years, but now, with global climate change, the weather is less predictable and less consistent, making agriculture harder. They reported the problem to Oxfam when they came for a follow up visit, but the village never heard back, or again, from Oxfam.
There are two primary groups in the region who used to clash, but now intermarry and work together. One group admitted to living day to day by stealing crops from the potato and corn fields. The other group described some small businesses they are doing. Some women sell charcoal in town. It is a three hour walk to town where on a good day they can sell up to 1000Rwf (around $1.70) and they travel up to four days a week there. Then they buy food and return home exhausted. The other business that was presented was of a sorghum beer bar. This bar is the one of the only businesses actually in their town and men and women alike go there. Kids at the age of ten were asking for money to buy beer. This is not unique to this region. Local bars often make the best businesses, catching those who have no work and providing them a space to sit and drink the day away. Their buildings are often the biggest and strongest ones in villages with potential exception to churches. The group explained that even with these few income-generating projects, almost no one has the ability to buy the mandatory health insurance. They get pestered by government officials for not having it. They explained that they struggle to get food, cannot cover school fees for their kids, haven’t any seeds to plant, don’t attract development because of their poor roads, rarely have safe water and cannot find jobs.
They are proud of two projects; an association they have formed to save and pay for health insurance for members, and another group saving program that they have recently started. They proposed a number of projects they would like to achieve. These including starting an agricultural project, fixing their roads, getting animals or manure and fertilizer, build a nursery school or find a place to fetch water. They all agreed that the first priority is food security and over the next two weeks they will be gathering and recording ideas for how to do this. In early January we will post their ideas online.
Ernest Gasabo, a journalist student at University is helping to facilitate a MicroGrant for the community.