Rural women in the Jarama sector, Ngoma district, have built wealth worth over Rwf200 million by earning, saving, and investing money thanks to solar-powered irrigation intervention financed by three UN Rome Based Agencies and UN Women. The Joint Programme on “Accelerating Progress towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JP RWEE)” is a global initiative with an overarching goal to secure rural women’s livelihoods and rights in the context of sustainable development. The programme is jointly implemented by the Rome-based Agencies (Food and Agriculture Organization - FAO, International Fund for Agriculture Development - IFAD, WFP) and UN Women, in partnership with the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF), the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), and other local organizations such as the Rwanda Rural Rehabilitation Initiative (RWARRI) and INADES Formation Rwanda as well as local governments such as Ngoma district and others where JP RWEE is implemented. Building on each agency’s comparative advantage and strengths to improve the status of women in rural areas, JP RWEE use a holistic approach to women’s economic empowerment, working towards four interrelated outcomes: i) improved food and nutrition security; ii) increased income to sustain livelihoods; iii) enhanced participation in decision-making; and iv) a more gender-responsive policy environment for rural women in agriculture. The women were supported under the JP RWEE, which is funded by the governments of Norway and Sweden, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The implementing UN agencies’ representatives toured the Ngoma district women’s achievements in climate-smart agriculture and assets on September 13, 2023, to celebrate the UN Day for South-South Cooperation. South-south cooperation is a manifestation of solidarity, through the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, also known as countries of the Global South. It aims to foster self-reliance of developing countries by enhancing their creative capacity to find solutions, strategies, and technological capabilities to address their development challenges. Talking about the UN Rome Based Agencies, Mr Ye Anping, the Director of the Office of South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTC) Division at FAO, said FAO is committed to providing more assistance to developing countries through south-south and triangular cooperation, adding that supporting rural women is part of preparing a bright future of Rwanda’s population. “The UN Rome Based Agencies already work together to support school feeding programmes and others. I am confident that all UN Rome Based Agencies will work more closely to contribute to development in Rwanda,” he said, citing the importance of rural women empowerment. Testimony The rural women farmers supported by UN agencies in Ngoma district started as small groups in farmer field schools in 2019. They were later supported to buy a three-hectare land. In 2021, they created a cooperative dubbed “Tuzamurane Kigoma,” which is helping them to earn, save from climate-resilient agriculture, and invest the savings in accumulating other assets. The cooperative comprises 163 members, of whom 144 are women. According to Therese Kansayisa, the cooperative president, before the project interventions, the farmers had no irrigation technology and were recording cases of malnutrition among children. “We started growing vegetables. However, we faced the challenges of lacking irrigation. We used to irrigate using watering cans manually. It was not effective. It was tiresome. We had to fetch water from the wetland using jerry cans and carry them on our heads up to the hillside. The partners then gave us irrigation facilities, and we are no longer recording the cases of malnutrition as food productivity increases,” she said. She said they started using diesel pumps, later replaced by solar-powered pumps to eliminate fossil fuel use. “The diesel pumps could not irrigate a big part of the land on the hillside. The solar-powered irrigation is currently covering all the hectares we have. We also save money to ensure the facility’s maintenance,” she said. The yields per hectare, she said, have increased from 30 percent to 70 percent thanks to the interventions. The cooperative grows different types of vegetables, fruits, and maize and does rabbit rearing. It also has an affordable cold room made from locally available materials to store vegetables for up to seven days before they are supplied to the market. The cooperative has a motor vehicle to transport agro-inputs to the farms and harvests to the market. “When we earn income, we do not share it as members. We save and invest in other projects to build the cooperative’s wealth,” she said. The cooperative has a maize processing unit, an equipped office, two maize drying facilities, a maize Sheller machine and humidity test machine to avoid aflatoxin, and a mini market under construction serving as the harvest selling point. Also, as a result of this joint programme, cooperative members have been equipped with skills and knowledge. For example, through Gender Action Learning systems (GALS) they have initiated micro projects at individual and household levels which improved relationships, equitable and joint planning, as well as budgeting. Under the JP RWEE, UN Women has supported the cooperative to establish an Early Childhood Development Centre (ECD) with the local government. The ECD serves both cooperative members and the nearby community, by providing holistic interventions to foster learning and school readiness. Through a common kitchen and training materials on how to prepare balanced diet, the JP RWEE supported cooperative provides food for school meals which contribute to ensuring a healthy growth of the children. “Children go to the ECD to learn and get a balanced diet while their parents work. We are committed to sustaining the gains made thanks to the project,” she said. Ronald Hartman, the Director of Global Engagement, Partnerships, and Resource Mobilization at IFAD, commended the rural women farmers for making the best water irrigation facilities to improve food productivity for consumption and market. “The most important thing I saw was the combination of hardware such as provision of solar powered irrigation system and with investment in software capacity building and empowerment activities including Gender Action Learning System (GALS +extended) to nutrition and climate changes. It is impressive to hear how the cooperative is generating income and reinvesting it in developing the cooperative,” he said. David Kaatrud, the Director of the Programme, Humanitarian and Development Division at WFP, commended the local authorities-sector and district leadership- for the partnership in making the project interventions successful. “I thank the cooperative leadership in leading the effort for everything accomplished. You can come together and achieve so much more. As WFP, IFAD, FAO, and UN Women together with our partners, we want to learn from you because we have a lot to do in Africa. We are there to do that and continue to support you to go further in this collaborative effort,” he told the rural women farmers. “Rural women empowerment is also contributing to community empowerment. They demonstrated a positive endeavor,” he said, adding that they will hear from the farmers to get what they need as they go to further phases. Marie Gloriose Mukayiranga, the Vice Mayor in charge of social affairs in Ngoma district, said that the JP RWEE is highly contributing to the district's socio-economic development. “We will continue to work with the project beneficiaries to ensure sustaining and ownership of gained facilities,” she said.