• Animal power for sustainable agriculture
Traditionally this would be an abomination, circumstances however have driven women in Rukomo Secter, Nyagatare district to push ploughs with the aid of Oxen as they prepare their land for the next planting season.
An abomination because animal draft farming equipments was reserved for men but as fate would have it most of these women are widowed and have no one to turn to other than themselves.
These 140 women farmers make up Kotaburu co-operative in Nyagatare. The women came together late 2008 after realising that their commonality would be the base of more power through collaborative achievements.
The co-operative President, 44 year old Doriatha Mukamurenzi says “We are widows who have found family amongst ourselves, in the group we assist and advise each other on different things like family planning, hygiene and nutrition,”
Through the co-operative the women managed to purchase a 0.5 hectare land that they would use for farming.” we contribute RWF 500 every month, this serves as a revolving fund that any of us can borrow from for school fees or home maintenance funds,” Mukamurenzi.
Barely two months ago, the co-operative received a resource that changed their view on their agricultural production capacity.
“We received four oxen from OXFAM GB, to use on our farms and for transportation, at first we dint know how much of use we could put the oxen to. With time and training we a looking forward to working harder using the animal draft ploughs” Mukamurenzi explains.
After the death of their husbands, these women lost more than companionship, they lost access to male labour, and they grew interest in animal power, seeing it as particularly useful for land preparation and for making easier the other heavy work previously done by their men.
Use of oxen provides the women labour for ploughing, ridging and transport of farm produce. The idea though new to them seemed a solution to labour difficulties facing the women.
For the women to effectively use the Oxen’s they needed training , they sought out for someone who knew how to use the animals, someone who had done it before ,that’s how they met one Winfrey Mukakigeri .
Mukakigeri is a trained Oxen use trainer she has trained up to 100 women on how to use the animals for farming and transportation for the past one year.
Mukakigeri is currently training the Kotaboru women for 45 days, during this time she hopes that the women will learn to communicate to the oxen so that they can effectively use them.
“I have learnt to talk to the oxens; they hear and do what I tell them, I am hoping these women will also learn to do so. The oxen can only be addressed in one consistent language,” Mukakigeri says in a laugh.
For now the women spend about six hours with Mukakigeri a day learning practical oxen use, management of their farm produce with a focus on use of animal power. The rest of the time they’re out in the field, putting their four new oxen’s to work on their land.
They are currently harvesting pineapples and preparing for the next planting season in September. This time they hope to plant mushrooms maize and more pineapples.
Mukakigeri has become more than a mother to the women. “We call her mother since we are all learning from her work. Previously to cultivate my 0.5 hectare land would have taken me and my children weeks with the oxen the work is easier and faster,” Mukamurenzi adds.
Using shared contributions the women have constructed a shed for the bullocks on the piece of land they purchased. The Oxen have become more than source of labour now they are a resource. They use the oxen drawn carts to transport building materials; water and the farm produce for a fee.
“After a day farming we use the bulls to carry water for our neighbours, it costs them RWF 50 per jerican, we can carry up to 20 Jeri cans per trip. Due to vast construction going on water demand is high” says Fatuma Natete one of the members.
Oxen carts are effective and economically attractive for rural transport. The two-wheeled bullock carts come in different sizes to allow ease of transportation. In this particular case due to lack of piped water in the area, the carts provide a good water transport business for the women.
Natete adds that sometimes they also hire the bulls cart to shop keepers to transport their goods.
“We charge RWF 200 per trip, sometimes we use the cart to transport manure for our neighbours,” says Natete.
These women are ploughing their lands each at a time, and the results are acquired faster and more efficiently.
“2 oxen take only 4 days to plough 1 hectare, this costs the land owner only RWF 4000 instead of RWF 200000 cost of human labour, when we are through with our land then we can hire out the bull to our neighbours,” says Natete.
The oxen produced manure is also scheduled to be sold to contribute to their revolving fund further.
Mukamurenzi adds that the group has a bank account in place to save the money they receive from hiring the oxen. A bullock a day will cost a person RWF 1000. The women are certain that with more training they can generate up to RWF 20000 a day with only four oxen.
“As per now we have RWF 21,600 made in the last 21 days, and we are still in training, Soon we will make more. The money will then be divided by the members after paying for the bulls maintenance and food costs,” says Mukamurenzi
Mukamurenzi reveals that the proceeds from the transport business will also be used to pay medical insurance for all members and their dependants.
9 years old Engenie Nyirarukundo is a mother of six she is one of the married women who decided to join the co-operative after the reviewing all the opportunities within it.
“I talked to my husband who felt it profitable for me to join the other women, Am an adult education teacher and hence I have also been able to help other women with reading and writing,” says Nyirarukundo.
Nyirarukundo and her friends hope that soon they will have more bulls to use for their co-operative farming and transport business this way they will be able to pay school fees for their children and pay for all their medical health.
70 of the women have also benefited from cross breed cows from Oxfam which they hope will produce more Oxen for increased benefits. After reproduction the cows will be passed over to the remaining half of the group.
“Tomorrow we will be better fed, our children will go to school and we raise them well. What we have started here will bear a greater future for us and our children,” Says Natete in a smile.
Natete feelings are shared by most of the group members whose sentiments are conveyed on the smiles drawn across their faces every time “bright”-One of the oxen passes nearby.
Although Oxen have their limitations, it is possible that their usefulness has been underestimated, particularly on their use to provide labour for sustainable agriculture.
These women have challenged the present with past solutions, Animal were once source of labour and now in the age of fuel crisis it seems their solution might be one we can all share.