Action Aid Rwanda Empowering Musanze women, improving food security, enhancing a savings culture and income diversification

For many years, Philomene Nyirajyambere lived a life of isolation, staying at home with little contribution to family development. She says that more often she was in conflict with her spouse over trivial and big domestic issues. She depended on her husband for everything.“I used to stay home and do house-work such as cooking and raising the kids which was not considered as important. Besides, we lived in poverty which also ignited conflicts in the family,” says Nyirajyambere.

Caption:Nyirahajyambere in her cabbages garden She says with ACTION AID support, she graduated from poverty category to a better life



For many years, Philomene Nyirajyambere lived a life of isolation, staying at home with little contribution to family development.


She says that more often she was in conflict with her spouse over trivial and big domestic issues. She depended on her husband for everything.


“I used to stay home and do house-work such as cooking and raising the kids which was not considered as important. Besides, we lived in poverty which also ignited conflicts in the family,” says Nyirajyambere.

The mother of three and a resident of Muko sector says life was hard for the family as they lived a  hand to mouth life. 

It was not until in 2007 when, with the  support of  local leaders, she, and her peers,  formed Hugukirwa Muko Cooperative  to bring together vulnerable women in the area and look for ways of improving their lives. But real change of her livelihood started taking shape in 2014.

Women empowered: food security income diversification given priority

In 2014, Action Aid Rwanda initiated  Improved Food Securityand economic opportunities for women farmers - Muko where farmers were brought together under different cooperatives and savings groups. 

Nyirajyambere is among the 1206 formerly vulnerable small-holder women farmers and 256 men empowered in Muko sector, Musanze district to improve their food security and economic exposure through increased agricultural profitability.

Nyirajyambere’s Hugukirwa Muko Cooperative, which was mainly focusing on improving farming, started other handcraft activities such as weaving, making pearls from papers, and curtains from pearls among many others.

“Before I joined the cooperative, I used to be lonely and always unhappy, I knew nothing about life outside the house and little could I interact with other people, I was always shy,” she narrates.


Caption: Women in handcraft weaving (Agaseke) in Muko Sector have immensely benefitted from the trade

She says that after joining the cooperative, life started changing as she could now interact with others as they worked together.  However, Nyirajyambere believes life was not well improved until the cooperative got a boost from Action Aid Rwanda.

Action Aid Rwanda, through the Faith Victory Association (FVA) started Improved Food and Security (IFS) project in Muko sector. The project which started in 2012 was funded by the UK-based Big Lottery.

Nyirajyambere who is the representative of Hugukirwa Muko cooperative from Muko sector Musanze district,  comprised of 30 members most of them women, says they deal in modern farming, growing Irish Potatoes, maize and vegetables among other crops.

They also deal in handicraft products from horns, Agaseke (basket) weaving, pearls from papers, curtains from pearls and many others.

“They (Action Aid) staff trained us in modern farming, entrepreneurship skills and importance of working together to be more productive.

Though we had a cooperative, we were not very organized,” she says. 

One of the projects they started with was to combat banana wilt (Kirabiranya) disease which had devastated banana plantations in the sector. Action Aid Rwanda  provided them with Rwf3million support and built infrastructures for banana seed multiplication. It was at around this time that farmers started practicing sustainable agriculture of maize, Irish potatoes and tomatoes.

She says that in 2015, they got some clients after being connected to a wider market by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) .

“First, basket weaving brought us a lot of  income because Rwanda Development Board (RDB) used to link us to clients. We attend some exhibitions in Kigali city and elsewhere such as district exhibitions where we sell our products,” she says adding that this is seen as a miracle as before it was not even easy for them to step out of their homes.

However, thanks to the support, clients gradually increased including foreigners who buy their baskets (uduseke).

Each basket was worth between rwf5000 and rwf10,000 and, she says, they made sales of over Rwf500, 000.

She adds that in a good season, they can get between Rwf80,000 and Rwf100,000 per day but sometimes they have to keep their products and wait for clients for long  which affects their sales.

Multi-level support: small domestic animals, training, mindset change 

In 2014 Action Aid Rwanda offered the cooperative  10 goats, 10 pigs and 100 chickens as well as fertilizers, seeds of Irish potatoes and maize.

She says, thanks to Action Aid support, they shifted from traditional to modern farming by applying monoculture, using improved seeds and applying fertilizers among other methods.

“As a cooperative, we have improved our farming methods; we use improved seeds and apply chemical and organic fertilizers.  This has improved our yields, incomes and livelihoods. With good quality produce, we are assured of a ready market and good prices at the local market,” Nyirajyambere explains.


Caption: Meeting to deposit savings Women in Muko sector  were grouped in cooperatives and each has a saving scheme to boost their living conditions

“Before, we could not pay  much attention on quality of yields. When we joined the cooperative,  we started applying modern farming methods on the land we have bought as a cooperative. We produce about 30 tonnes of Irish potatoes per hectare while maize produce stands at between 4tonnes and 5 tonnes per hectare,” she says, adding that they apply modern farming on three hectares.

The total assets for the cooperative today stands at  between Rwf 8 million and Rwf 10 million.  The cooperative has bought own land at Rwf2.5million, she notes.

“Besides every woman has a livestock at home and we get manure for use in our small gardens. I no longer beg my husband some small household items such as soap, lotion and clothes. He is always happy that my income has  improved,” she says

“I can manage to pay community health Insurance (Mutuel de santé) and school fees for my three children.   My husband is involved in  other economic activities so we can complement each other, unlike in the past,” she says.

“I used to feed my family. Besides, after depositing  some savings, I acquired a loan from (SACCO) and bought a cow which calved and has a heifer,” she boasts. 

She gets manure and milk to feed her children and improve nutrition.

She says that the skills acquired over the past years in entrepreneurship, sustainable agriculture,  livestock keeping, gender equality and women development  will help her and other women practice better farming and handicraft practices to yield better, earn more and live better lives including fighting malnutrition among families.

“We will keep using the skills gained from training and keep learning more about sustainable agriculture, livestock, gender equality and women development so as to keep the progress more sustainable and beneficial to all of us. We  never have to look back in the past,” she pledges.

Testimonies: Good practices, better results

Marie Irene Nyirabigirimana, is a member of the cooperative Abihuje Nyakanama, another cooperative with 30 members which was supported by ActionAid Rwanda. She says she used to struggle to get food. She used to till land for others at a mere Rwf800 per day.

The mother of four says that since Improved Food Security  project started to support them, there has been great change in her life.

“We became confident because we meet and interact with others. We never used to mind much about hygiene before and we had no income at all. But the harsh conditions ended when we were trained in  business and entrepreneurship skills, sustainable agriculture, livestock, and women’s rights as well,” she adds.

“When you are alone at home, you are never updated about any developments. This is where the project moved us out of isolation, ” she says.

She observes that currently there is improved understanding and good relations between husbands and wives because women’s income generating capacity has improved.

She recounts that she rarely used to put on shoes but there is a clear difference today: “Now I am clean, I generate an income , I have livestock and I have improved relations with my husband as he used to tell me that I consume without generating income.”

Nyirabigirimana was provided with a pig, which later delivered piglets. Currently she has three pigs. She was also trained in kitchen garden preparation where she grows a variety of vegetables, which together with other agriculture practices improved food security and nutrition in her family.

“When I used to work for Rwf800, I could not start any income generating activity but after entrepreneurship skills training, I became a clothes retailer from which I gain a profit of at least Rwf2000 per day,” she explains as she shows off her business.

She appreciates training in time management which now enables her  to plan days for retailing and days for tilling her land or hire workers to till the land so that  the activities are carried out at the same time.

Due to good agriculture practices learnt, she says, she knows the importance of spacing, timeliness in planting, weeding and harvesting among others. The Abihuje Nyakanama cooperative’s is committed to moving toward self-sustaining by practicing income generating agriculture, promoting value addition and exporting the surplus.

“We used to sell our maize at Rwf100 per kg but after some lessons in value addition,  we, as a cooperative, process the maize we grow into flour, using  our own milling plant acquired with the support of FVA. The milling plant is in Muko sector, Bugese village, Mburabuturo cell.  The residues from processed maize  are used as animal feeds. We even target to process and extract cooking oil from the same maize,” she explains.

The Maize mill which was installed and went operational  last year, is owned by Imboni z’iterambere  Musanze, an association bringing together all 50 cooperatives  under Action Aid support.

She adds that they can now harvest 2.6 tonnes from the same size of land (small scattered plots) where they used to harvest 200 kg of Irish potatoes  while maize yields have grown from150kg to 700 kg.

Boosting savings, diversifying incomes

Farmers in Muko sector are grouped into 50 cooperatives with each having a saving scheme where they do small savings that they say have boosted access to loans and diversification of household economic activities.

“I first acquired a loan of Rwf300, 000 from Umurenge Sacco and used it to buy Irish potato seeds and a modern bicycle which generates Rwf3000 per week. I grew Irish potatoes of which yields I sold to service the Sacco loan,” says Epiphanie Mukantabana one of beneficiaries from Nyakanama village, Kivugiza cell in Muko sector.


Caption: Women in saving co-operative, seen here collecting their savings as they are from farming

“With  the money I get from savings and from my produce, I acquired another loan of Rwf300,000 which I used to buy a plot of land where I grow crops.  I have small domestic animals I rear to supplement  my income,” she adds.

“We are thankful for the Action Aid support, they taught us how to save, entrepreneurship and modern farming, we will continue to work hard to ensure we sustain our development,” says Mukantabana.

She says she saves Rwf1,250 per week and optimistic that  future will be bright.

After gaining knowledge in entrepreneurship, Dorcelle Nyirahabinka also  acquired a small loan  from Intazuka Cooperative   to start a small business of selling vegetables.

“I first requested for Rwf20, 000 that I used to start a vegetables selling business and carry out  farming which have changed livelihoods in my family. With the savings I accumulated, I was able to build a house of 27 iron sheets which I and family live in,” she says.

“I am grateful for the support. Action Aid supported our cooperatives and we have graduated from poverty category to a better one. We know how to save, a practice that  has improved our lives. Every farmer has small animals they rear and it helps us fight malnutrition. I have 13 chickens  from which I get eggs to feed my kids,” she adds. 

Currently, all  cooperatives boast of over Rwf60 million thanks to savings , which they believe, can form a microfinance institution in the near future, according to Action Aid officials

Action Aid pleased with results

Michel Ndayambaje, Action Aid Social Rights Programme Manager in Northern Province says the project provides support, trains beneficiaries on savings culture and better agriculture practices and leaves the implementation to them.


Caption: Action Aid Social Right Programme Manager in Northern Province Michel Ndayambaje

Afterwards, he says, they follow them up and work closely with grassroots leaders to sustain the achievements.

He says the Improved Food Security (IFS) project by Action Aid started in 2014 and financed by Green Lottery Fund from UK at Rwf524m to help Action Aid tackle poverty among Rwandans. It  was implemented by FVA.

Ndayambaje  says Action Aid had started a project in in one cell of Muko where there are high levels of  poverty but funds were insufficient to complete it and so they designed a proposal for another three-year project financed by UK Partners.

The IFS Muko project supported 1,507 beneficiaries picked from first and second ubudehe categories including 1,251 women and 256 men that were organised into 50 cooperatives.

‘We selected people with  disabilities,  with HIV/AIDS positive associations and  added other existing   women associations   which had no  financial capacity as well as new associations that we  created .The  main objective was supporting  women to boost food security ,’’ he says.

He explained that the project had fulfilled three objectives in general, namely; increasing beneficiaries’ capacity so that they acquire knowledge and skills  to develop themselves and raise their voices.

He confirms that they have achieved the objective considering how beneficiaries were extremely poor and were carrying out agriculture without skills in development such as saving.

“It is interesting to observe their achievements. We are happy with the project achievements which  is closing in June this year,” he says.

The second objective, he adds, was combating disaster. The sector is in valley, prone to floods caused by storm waters from volcanoes National Park through Susa water stream.

“The project trained them on flood control near the river,” he says. 

The project also targeted to promote sustainable agriculture by proving fertilizers and selected seeds, livestock and educating beneficiaries on saving culture so as to increase economic development.


Caption:Though the Project was closing the beneficiaries are to thankful to AID AID due to their achievements

“The project will close in June (this month) but will continue the activities with continuous support and monitoring the activities. The project was implemented at 120 % because we even achieved more than we had expected. Every year we could carry out evaluation of what is being done and add some elements that we also managed to implement,” he proudly concludes.

A maize mill that has changed the way Musanze
rural women consume and sell their maize produce


Caption: The Maize mill has been a blessing to farmers in more ways than one

Euthalie Mukagahutu is a happier woman after she was supported together with other women to get a maize mill that is used to add value to the produce.

The mother of six grows maize on half-hectare in Bugese Village, Mburabuturo Cell in Muko Sector in Musanze District, where she harvests about 10 sacks of maize, the equivalent of one tonne.

The 47-year- mother  of six, says that in the past, they did not have ways of adding value to the produce which affected their production and consumption patterns,  leaving them in poverty.

“We did not have ways of  adding value to our maize produce and  only ate corn maize known as Imvungure.  We could misuse our produce as we had no ways to store it for  a long period,” she says.

We would always suffer from hunger shortly after the harvest as the produce could get damaged at a faster rate, and so opted to sell the maize produce at a low price and then could buy maize flour at a higher cost,” she says.

In 2014, three years ago, farmers in Muko sector got a maize milling machine and a store for the maize produce both donated by Action Aid through Improved Food Security and Ecomonic Opportunities for Women Farmers - Muko project (IFS) project that has been implemented by Faith Victory Association (FVA) in Muko sector, Musanze district.

The project targeted the most vulnerable women but also covered a few men.

Action Aid Rwanda established the stores and the maize mill plant at a cost of  Rwf35 million. The mill today processes  1.2 tonnes of maize flour every day.

The factory is run by Imboniz’iterambere, an umbrella cooperative that brings together 50 cooperatives of former vulnerable  women and some men.

There are 1,507 beneficiaries from first and second ubudehe categories including 1251 women and 256 men under 50 cooperatives.

Mukagahutu says that the maize mill has helped them improve the quality of their yields,  and it helps her as an individual to feed her family.  She gets maize flour and sells the rest of the produce.

She says that before getting the maize mill, they used to sell their maize produce at low prices - about Rwf80 a kilogramme.

Currently, she says, a kilogramme goes for up to between Rwf310 and Rwf340 thanks at the factory.

Such benefits, she added, are partly attributed to trainings delivered by ActionAid Rwanda in modern farming practices including; spacing and fertilizer application, harvesting, post-harvest handling and sorting. 

“The factory provides a ready market for maize produce. This has improved the livelihoods of our families,” she said.

She said that she has children studying at secondary school and one at university.

“The money I get from the sales of maize produce at this factory, is what I use to pay school fees for my children,” she said.

The income from her farming also covers ‘Mutuelle de Santé contributions – a community-based health insurance scheme.

She got three chickens and a pig from Action Aid Rwanda, which will help her earn more income and get fertilizers. 

Other women say they have adopted modern farming methods which they apply in their various individual gardens and cooperatives.  They said that the maize milling machine has helped them get flour, the surplus of which they sell to locals and they eat Maize bread unlike previously when it was hard for them to get it.

“We are happy that we now have a maize store and a milling machine which grinds maize grains into flour. We sell maize flour to local schools as well as small traders,” said Theophile Nikuze, the president of Hagurukana Umwete farming cooperative.


Caption: The presence of stores in Muko sector has improved post-harvest handling and quality of the grains

Hilarie Mujawamungu, the representatives of Musanze women Association cooperatives   said; “There are significant positive changes among members of cooperatives as their produce are bought at better prices compared to yesteryears before acquisition of the mill,”

“The maize mill has the capacity to process 2tonnes of maize per day all of which  is sold upon production. We are benefiting a lot from the mill and we are grateful to the Action Aid support. The mill is helping us boost our development.  This is just a beginning and the future seems to be brighter,” she says. 


Cold room enables preservation, better market access for Muko farmers 


Caption: A cold room to keep vegetables look fresh

Fidel Wibabara, a farmer and a facilitator of other farmers  in Dukataze mu Iterambere  Cooperative from Muko sector, Cyogo cell , says that their agricultural produce, mainly vegetables and fruits, could get deteriorated one day after harvest, leaving them counting loses.

This, he says, was because they did not have facilities to store and control the temperatures in  the stores.

Therefore, they used to either give the produce at a giveaway price or the produce would totally get spoiled.

Fortunately, in 2016, farmers got support from Action Aid through Faith Victory Association (FVA), starting with improving their knowledge levels on  how to practice modern farming. It was then that they  started working on improving the produce. 

Since then they started getting bumper harvest and Action Aid provided them with a Cold room facility to store and control fruits before they take them to the market.

The cold room controls the temperature for the collected vegetables and fruits from 50 cooperatives comprised of 1,507 members. 

For vegetables and fruits, they take the produce to various markets largely in Rubavu City, Western Province and in its vicinity.

They grow a variety of fruits and vegetables mainly tree tomatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, pumpkins among others.

Tree tomatoes are mainly sold in Kigali from an area cold ‘KwaMutangana’ in Nyabugogo.

Wibabara says the Cold Room was a major boost to them. 

The facility, which cost over Rwf20 million, has capacity to keep between three and four tonnes of fruits and vegetables which is almost the weekly produce farmers get.

Farmers were also trained in how to market their produce, enabling them to secure markets beyond the local limits.

Why the Cold room facility is important

The losses incurred before acquisition of the cold room were huge and farmers could sell off their harvest at giveaway prices; otherwise their produce would rot.

“When you keep vegetables and fruits in a hot place, they deteriorate in a very short period. The cold room keeps them in a stable condition such that they can last for between 14 to 28 days without their safety being compromised.  You understand that within one month, we have already got a buyer,” he said.

“In general, the cold room helps us collect the agricultural produce and wait for the clients when there is no ready favorable market.  At the same time it ensures  the safety of our commodities,” he said expressing that the move gave farmers bargaining power.

He hails Action Aid for the support saying it has helped them change their lives and lays a hope that the future is brighter.

“We are happy for the facility; we would be counting losses if we had not got it. We  are thankful for the project and we commit to never disappoint the funders but  take care of the facility to ensure it never gets damaged before time,” he says

The father of two is also marketing officer in ‘Imboniz’iterambere’ cooperatives union operating from Muko Sector.

The union has 1,507 members so far, all using the facility.


How harmonized flow of efforts with wife helped Ntabahwana out of poverty


Caption:Phocus Ntabahwana, a model farmer in Muko Sector, Musanze District

About five years ago, Phocan Ntabahwana was a threat to his family.  He used to return home late and drunk, fighting everybody at home.

The father of eight and a resident of Cyogo cel, Muko sector Musanze district says he could use the little money he got as a casual labourer to buy beer and could not take care of his children let alone paying school fees for them. So the family’s hope for the future was very hazy.

However, in 2014 Ntabahwana started a new life when he joined  Turwanya Inzara  cooperative to work with other farmers to improve their lives.

At the beginning, Ntabahwana’s wife joined one of the local cooperatives, but he resisted as he could not understand what will be the returns from her joining cooperative.

“I was always a threat and I contributed little to the family development. Instead, I could even use the little money to buy beer and go back home drunk,” he says.

“When my wife joined the cooperative, I was against it as I could not imagine what will be its positive effect, “he adds.

It was not until months later that he started understanding the role of being in cooperative that he joined another cooperative in the area and started working with them.

The cooperative, Turwanya Inzara, was formed to fight against hunger in area. It was supported by Action Aid Rwanda through Faith Victory Association (FVA). Farmers were encouraged to work in cooperatives and were given improved seeds as well as fertilizers.

Besides, they were provided with entrepreneurship skills.

“Before we got the support from Action Aid, I could grow crops but could not save because the yields were too low and I also had poor management,” he says.

However after he joined the cooperative and her wife was a member of another cooperative (Twiyubake Cyogo,) the family started to use acquired skills to work hard on  their gardens as well as in cooperatives.

Through cooperatives, they also started saving s and could get small loans. In the cooperative, they could contribute Rwf200 as one share per week but a member is allowed to get more shares up to five times. Members share dividends at the end of the year.

It is money from the first share that Ntabahwana used to start modern farming   in 2015.

“The first time we shared money generated from Irish potatoes growing and savings, I got Rwf50, 000 which I used to buy tree tomato seeds.. I invested in tree tomatoes and the returns were impressive,” he said.

He explains he earned Rwf1m and it is the third time he is growing tree tomatoes. Currently, he says, he has Rwf200,000 on account while the rest has been invested in other activities.

He rears small animals such as two pigs and four goats saying that food security has improved.

He says that from the earnings in cooperatives he gets and his wife, plus the earning from produce of tree tomatoes, a lot has been achieved. He has bought two  pieces of land as well.

“I have learnt that unity is strength. We delayed our development opportunities.  So far I am happy that I bought two pieces of land at Rwf500, 000 and Rwf700, 000 respectively thanks to tree tomato growing,” he narrates adding that he would not have achieved this, hadn’t it been  a harmonized flow of efforts  with his wife.

“This season I have invested not more than Rwf200, 000 and I expect to earn about Rwf800, 000 ,” he enthuses. He also says that they will expend more efforts in practicing  modern farming on the plots of land they acquired to be more productive.

“We are now able to educate our children and we pay mutuelle  de santé for the entire family. Before, we used to struggle but now we are self-reliant, I am thankful for the Action Aid support  and commit to use the skills to boost modern farming as well as training other farmers,” he says

“We were trained on harmonious family values. Before joining the cooperative, I always got money,drank beer and disturb my wife. But after training I gave up drinking alcohol , I only take soft drinks and porridge, a step that has improved the development of my family,” he says.

He currently has clients from Kigali city who buy tree tomatoes from  him at Rwf800 per kg. 

He also grows tomatoes, beans and maize, the crops he says contribute to family development.


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