Women smallholder farmers empowered to advocate for better agricultural services, and influence agriculture budgetary processes
When she walked into the parliament while a parliamentarian was presenting the national budget proposal to members of the august house, Dorothée Mukeshimana couldn’t believe she had finally gone to the parliament, a place she had only heard of and thought it was close to heaven.Mukeshimana had always wished to visit parliament, although she imagined it was only for the elites and learned persons; her dream finally became a reality. She could hardly believe she was about to share her opinion regarding the agriculture budget, to the parliamentary committee.
Mukeshimana is a rural woman hailing from Mukingo sector, Nyanza district who, along with other few smallholder women farmers’ representatives, had been invited by ActionAid to participate in a parliamentary special seating of the budget committee and the civil society,to engage,regarding the budget frame work paper 2017/2018 with a focus on the Agriculture sector.
Mukeshimana had not participated in such a high level dialogue before, until two years ago when she started acquiring trainings on sustainable agricultural policies and citizen participatory budgeting.
The training was organised under the auspices of a project called Strengthening Civil Society Organisation Capacity in Promoting Sustainable Agriculture Policies and Citizens Participatory Budgeting in Rwanda (SCAB) funded by the European Union and Action Aid Rwanda implemented by Collectif des ligues et association de défense des droits de l’homme au Rwanda (CLADHO) Conseil de concetration des organisations d’appui aux initiatives de base (CCOAIB).
“Before, I knew nothing about national budgeting process until about two years ago when I and others, acquired trainings on agriculture budgeting and our role as farmers in the entire planning, implementation and monitoring processes of agricultural policies. Since then, our role is significant and is still improving,” Mukeshimana said.
“As a representative of fellow women smallholder farmers, when CSO was presenting its analysis and understanding of the BFP to the parliamentary Budget committe, I went as their voice to demand for an increased budget to agriculture allocation from the planned 5% to atleast 10% as the Maputo declaration requires,and the parliamentary budget committee put this into consideration which was proof that women farmers too have a role to play,and made us proud, she confidently affirms. As a result of their deliberations in the parliament, the approved agricultural budget was increased by 30% and total allocation is 7.1%.
Mukeshimana adds that, she and other smallholder farmers have been able to attend numerous trainings that have been a source of the knowledge and skills,boosted individual and network confidence,enabling them to advance their views and influence various agricultural programs. The trainings received include: cooperative management and development, advocacy and power relations, using social media, conducting community dialogues,to mention but a few.
Empowering citizens to influence and advocate for sustainable agricultural policies
According to the Country Director ,Josephine Irene Uwamariya, ActionAid Rwanda is implementing a 3-year project called Strengthening CSO Capacity in Promoting Sustainable Agricultural Policies and Citizens Participatory Budgeting in Rwanda (SCAB)The project is aimed at strengthening the capacity of Civil Society Organisations at all levels including; Internal Governance, Structuring, Resource Mobilisation ,Technical Budgetary Knowledge and Communication skills to actively engage in agriculture policy shaping, formulation and implementation.
The project also intends to better link the national agriculture budget to the population’s priority needs and human rights through informed analyses and contributions to budget proposals, monitoring and tracking public revenues and expenditures, and supporting citizens budget literacy.
In so doing, the project is mobilising, bringing together and working with Civil Society stakeholders from local to national levels in a bid to institutionalise agriculture policy and budget planning processes that embrace public accountability, effectiveness, gender responsiveness and climate resilience to ensure sustainable food security in Rwanda.
“The project considers the fact that a majority of the labour force in the agriculture sector are women, so their engagement to influence the processes of planning and budgeting is so vital,we support the women as our niche as ActionAid for they are the ones that have had their rights violated for centuries through a patriarchal system; the mindset has been that women are dependent on men and have been subjected to gender-based violence,” she observes.
Uwamariya says that ActionAid is not only just engaging small-holder women farmers in agriculture budgeting processes but they also do monitor implementation of these plans and budgets, enabling them to hold duty bearers or policy makers to account for where the commitments have not been met and where issues have not been fully influenced.
Uwamariya expressed her gratitude to the European union for supporting and funding the SCAB project that has significantly contributed to inclusive citizens participation and budget planning. She appreciated the collaboration of all stakeholders especially the policy makers like ministry of agriculture, ministry of finance and economic planning for their continuous support.
Josephine Uwamaliya, Actionaid Rwanda Country Director.
Reinforcing Advocacy skills through cooperatives
Project supported Cooperatives are comprised of between 25-50 women smallholder farmers. They arrange their meetings as per the Rwanda cooperative agency guidelines; however they often meet quarterly to discuss on numerous issues like farmers needs, savings and loans, cooperative development, community problems and others that affects their daily lives.
Immaculee Nyirampore, a member of Mpore Dukunde Inzuki cooperative and a representative of a smallholder women network that comprises of 450 women in Busasamana sector,Nyanza district states that apart from training in networking and coalition building improved farming techniques, women rights, they have gained cooperative management skills that have enabled the expansion of membership.
‘‘When people saw how our lives are being transformed through the knowledge and skills we gained from cooperatives, we started getting countless requests of people who want to join. We started when we were 187 members of the network but now we are 450 members.
We used to practice traditional farming methods like inter-cropping but we have now embraced modern farming methods where we are using fertilizers, minimum tillage, improved seeds timely planting,which has tripled our yields. Every member of our cooperatives has got a kitchen garden where we grow vegetables to ensure a balanced diet.
Members of the Mpore Dukunde Inzuki Cooperative say that from the newly established banana plantations they are able to sell a bunch at Rwf 8,000 instead of the Rwf 2500 that they used to get before.
“As women representatives,we usually hold discussions and listen to the views of the smallholder farmers,which views we then share during the several other policy influencing meetings we attend with leaders including parliamentarians. We get the views from the grassroot level and share them with the policy influencers so our voices are also heard.
Yannick Kantete,the president of smallholder Women farmers Network in Gisagara district, recognises project efforts to empower farmers to become agents of positive change. She emphasisedthat farmers have been able to advocate and lobby for better agricultural services like timely delivery of fertilisers and seeds and through Twigire Muhinzi encouraged others them to embrace good farming practices like mono cropping and good post-harvest handling practices that has boosted crop productivity of, beans, maize and wheat among others.
“We now have enough for household and surplus for sale, we easily access agricultural services given that we are able to speak out what we want from government and other stakeholder.
Our rights can no longer be violated because we are now well- informed
Gloriose Nyirumuringa, the president of Kamonyi District Smallholder Women Network and a member of Abadacogora Cooperative in Rugarika sector says SCAB project by ActionAid supported them to know their rights and how laws protect women. They were trained and given communication materials in Kinyarwanda educating them about their rights.
“We did not know a woman could have a voice in any planning process even at household level or could raise voice when faced with the adversity of domestic violence,but now we engage starting from our families unlike before where only the husbands’ opinion mattered. We can now confidently share our views at community level and at national level-something that we could never have imagined even in our wildest dreams,”she mentioned.
Women farmers advocating for increase in the agriculture budget allocation during a session with parliamentarians.
Though the SCAB project, several other trainings have been conducted in areas of; Unpaid Care Work, budget tracking and monitoring, community score card and social audit, information dissemination.
Today, farmers and citizens are able to participate in community consultations after the planning and budgeting call circular is issued by Ministry of Finance and Economic planning, participate in community and district pre-budget hearings; processes that started in December 2016.
They have taken up the responsibility to demand from the public authorities what they want to be done in every fiscal year, but also understood that it is their right to seek accountability from the government on services delivered.
We were totally clueless about the agriculture budget but today we are well equipped with knowledge about the budget ,we do follow up and can now share our opinions in light of the budget . In our sector, we participate in district meetings and we have a say in whatever is discussed,” Nyirumuringa says.
Women in tomato tree plantation in Musanze district.
“I had never thought that a farmer like me with no education background, can contribute any idea and is considered important by leaders especially during the national budget making. But I attended the district pre-budget hearings and mentioned of the need to allow many agro-dealers to reduce the irresponsibility of single dealers who practise monopoly. This would increase competition thus good service delivery. She affirms that single agro-dealers in localities not bothered by late delivery of services but when they are many and competition is high, they value and honor farmers’ requests and they will give good services, no one will ever again hear late delivery of agro-inputs any more. My idea was emphasised by the Vice Mayor of Economic Planning and we were promised that it would be advanced at national level for consideration,”Nyiramuringa narrates.
Across all the 8 districts where the project operates, women smallholder farmers share similar testimonies:
Esperance Nyirahabiyambere,a resident of Gitesi sector, Karongi district,testifies that the benefits of the project have been enormous. “Through the project, we were trained to, form and strengthen cooperatives, build coalitions by formation of networks that brings together all women smallholder farmers cooperatives in the sector. We also received training on Twigire Muhinzi, practicing climate resilient practices, ,and controlling soil erosion.,” she says.
“One of the things we learnt is that farmers should take part in the budgetary planning process. We were sensitised and encouraged to attend community meetings at any every level possible, discuss issues affecting agriculture and food security, consolidate our views and forward them to concerned parties,” Petronille said.
“SCAB project has been so supportive because through it, we have been able to gain knowledge and skills, participate in budgeting and other policies in agriculture among others. I personally gained a lot from it as I managed to participate in various tours aimed at exchanging experience with continental women farmers in Uganda, among othersadds Esperance.