Jenina Nyirabakwiye and Donata Nyirandimukaga are smartly dressed, almost over-dressed for a chilly Friday afternoon in the farms surrounding the rolling hills of Cyanika sector in Burera District.
The 43 year old mother of six and 56 year old widow with six children have been waiting for my arrival, eagerly it seems, as the relief and joy on their faces can hardly be hidden.
Like many women living in rural areas, both Jenina and Donata wholly depend on agricultural activities to feed and meet other needs of their large familes. I meet them in their farms where bean plants have recently sprouted and seem to be growing very well. Their farms are neat and sharply contrast with other neighbouring farms. From the way they talk, one can tell that they are proud to be associated with their farms.
For four years now, Jenina has been part of a cooperative that receives training from HarvestPlus Rwanda on how to grow biofortified beans that are adapted to the weather patterns of the Northern region of Rwanda. Donata joined the cooperative one year after Jenina had joined having been convinced of the benefits she witnessed from cooperative members.
Although beans are the predominant staple food in Rwanda, most of what farmers grow is low in essential iron. Through biofortification process, HarvestPlus conventionally breeds beans that are richer in essential proteins and minerals such as zinc and iron. Biofortified beans can be grown by rural communities in all parts of the country to address malnutrition and hidden hunger - a situation whereby an individual appears physically healthy but is actually more vulnerable to illnesses and infections due to lack of enough essential vitamins and minerals in their daily diets. Iron deficiency in particular impairs mental development and learning capacity, increases weakness and fatigue and, when accompanied by severe anaemia, may increase the risk of women dying in childbirth.
More nutritious and tastier compared to ordinary beans, biofortified beans are higher yielding as they have been adapted to specific regions’ climate and weather.
By creating access to biofortified beans, HarvestPlus has contributed greatly towards food security. Farmers have been able to sell part of their produce to markets created by HarvestPlus and buy other nutritious foods to supplement their diets while at the same time enjoy the nutritious benefits from the biofortified beans.
Jenina and her husband work together on the farm. It is her husband who brought to her the idea of joining the cooperative after learning about it from other farmers. A decision they do not regret to date. Since they joined the cooperative they have seen the yield from their farm multiply in leaps and bounds and the well-being of their children tremendously improved. “We have learned modern techniques of farming that have increased our farm’s yield. Through the profits we make, we are able to take all our six children through school. Three of them are in Primary school and the other three are in Secondary school. We have enough food to eat and our mituelle de sante contributions are upto date. I can also afford nice clothes like these ones am wearing because of the profits from the farm.” Jenina happily explains.
Donata on the other hand, has single-handedly been able to care for her children. All her six children have gone through primary education and one is currently pursing her Bachelors degree at the University with some assistance from a Government bursary. Donata has two parcels of land and on this particular land where I’ve met her, she can harvest up to 200 kgs of beans per planting season. Harvest Plus not only trains the farmers on good farm practices, it also finds market for their produce. Famers in cooperatives pool together their produce and HarvestPlus finds the market. From her farm’s yield of 200 Kgs, Donata is assured of making Rwf. 120,000.
On another farm, I find Ignase Ngaruye hard at work digging trenches between the bean plantation beds to stop soil erosion. Heavy rainfall the previous night had washed away the top soil and filled previously dug trenches. If it rained again before he cleared the trenches, they risk the crops being washed away and their hopes for a handsome harvest after the long drought dashed.
The Northern part of Rwanda is characterised by heavy rainfall lasting 3 to 4 months. HarvestPlus therefore works with farmers in this region to grow climber beans that are well adapted to this climate. Climbers take longer to mature and grow to a height of about 1 meter ensuring that the beans pods are not affected by excessive water which can cause fungal infections and destroy the entire crop.
Ignase is Odette Wamaria’s husband and together they have nine children. They are also part of a cooperative that receives training from HarvestPlus on how to cultivate biofortified beans and other good farming practices. Before they joined the cooperative they would plant 30 Kgs of beans and only harvest 100 Kgs.
Today, they only need 15 Kgs of beans to harvest 300 Kgs from their 25 by 50 plot. Like Donata and other farmers working together with Harvest Plus, Odette is assured of market for her beans, this season she expects to make at least Rwf. 180,000.
Through the profits she makes, she has been able to feed her family with healthy food and take her children through school. Two of her children have graduated from University, two have recently completed senior six, two are still in Secondary school while three are in Primary school.
Harvest Plus has positively impacted the lives of many rural women. By equipping them with skills to manage their farms better and providing market for their produce, women are able to make better decisions for their family members including providing them with better diets, investing in medical care insurance and taking children to school. The more organized way of farming has also encouraged men to work together with their wives in the farms because the work is evident for all to see.
In partnership with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture(CIAT) HarvestPlus supports the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) to breed, test and release varieties of iron beans to farmers around the country. With the support of USAID, HarvestPlus is scaling up iron beans within Feed the Future zone of influence to promote availability, adoption and consumption of iron beans.