Women farmers in Rwanda improve post-harvest handling
Born to a farming family, Theresa Mukashyaka and her parents cultivated beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. They practiced subsistence agriculture but the only crop that would make it to market was beans.
At 59, Mukashyaka has been a smallholder farmer her entire life. Like many women in rural areas, farming is the only available profession for her. She considers her work noble and believes the sector could be improved. In Nyarunyinya, Muhanga District where Mukashyaka was born, many farmers remain vulnerable despite generational farming because they continue to use traditional and yet poor agricultural methods.
Post-harvest handling remains the number one problem for farmers in Nyarunyinya due to old fashioned methods and the use of rudimentary tools.
In this rural area of Rwanda, farmers lose up to 40 per cent of their agricultural products during post-harvest production as much is wasted at every stage from the start of harvesting to the marketplace.
When Rwanda Development Organisation (RDO) received funds from UN Women to implement a project supporting women farmers, the Tuzamurane Cyeza Cooperative Muhanga was selected because of its sizeable number of women members. Mukashyaka is a cooperative member.
Cooperative members were trained in gender empowerment, provided with good agricultural practices, and taught better methods about post-harvest handling, storing grains and obtaining equipment to handle and store harvest.
The project included acquiring different post-harvest equipment like tarpaulins, hermetic bags (PICS bags), moisture meters and drying sheds. The tarpaulins and hermetic bags for individual harvests helped to improve production quality.
Mukashyaka noticed immediate change on her 20-acre plot when production almost jumped tenfold after she applied newly learned skills. Before 2017 she was producing 80kgs, but this surged to 700kgs in 2018 after her new skills set. Production keeps increasing as she applies good practices.
“Before, no one was paying attention to some of those poor methods but today, I can’t even think about how one can harvest maize without tarpaulins or heaping the harvest on dirt grounds.” The provided shed helped the cooperative members to dry maize and the hermetic bags gave them safe food storage.
“Before we used to store in the normal bags and our production would get damaged. Sometimes we would use chemicals that are dangerous to our health. Now, this doesn’t happen anymore thanks to RDO and UN Women who provided hermetic bags that don’t need to use chemicals,” Mukashyaka said.
Marie Louise Uwimana, a smallholder farmer in Muhanga District with seven children, is grateful to have been part of the trainings on how to increase productivity and improve quality production, particularly on post-harvest handling.
She learned how to monitor maize in the garden and watch for its maturity and how to dry and store products. Before acquiring this knowledge, most of Uwimana’s produce was going to waste as she wasn’t using the right methods.
“We never imagined that issues like aflatoxin were compromising the quality of our maize and many of the farmers were feeding on such poor quality in their homes, now we know better,” she said.
After learning better methods in post-harvest handling, Uwimana was given a tarpaulin and hermetic bags to store her produce. She said she no longer waits for subsidized equipment and instead goes to the market to buy the required agricultural tools or post-harvest equipment when needed.