Just under half of the population in Rwanda live in extreme poverty. Poor diets and malnutrition are a concern, with 38% of children under five reported as being stunted.
Tea lies at the heart of this East African country: it’s Rwanda’s second export and there are 45,000 small-scale tea farmers. As a relatively small country, farms tend to be limited in size and consequently earning potential.
The Ethical Tea Partnership is actively working to improve farmers lives through our programmes.
We support farmers in Rwanda to change their lives for the better. Farmers learn to adopt effective agricultural practices, develop their business skills and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities to grow their incomes. Working together, our goal is both to improve how much farmers can earn and to support them to be more prepared to face any unexpected changes.
Going further in our efforts to better farmers’ lives, we also work with them to develop key life skills. Led by farmers’ needs, our programmes’ goals are far-reaching. For example, we support farmers to understand the importance of nutrition, and how to best adopt a healthy diet for them and their families.
Given the fundamental role women play in farming communities, all our work in Rwanda is designed with the needs of women at their heart.
Over the years we’ve worked with several partners to support farmers in Rwanda, including IDH – Sustainable Trade Initiative, and we are part of a Strategic Alliance with German Development Agency GIZ for work in Rwanda.
Together with our strategic partners, we have so far supported more than 3,500 farmers in Rwanda. Looking ahead, we aim to work with a further 4,500 farmers by 2022 to improve their incomes.
Here are just some of the ways our work is changing lives in tea communities.
Farmer Field Schools
We run a practical year-long training programme for tea farmers, where they are exposed to the most effective agricultural techniques. Farmers learn how to grow more, better quality tea – increasing how much they earn from their land.
In 2018 we set up 47 Farmer Field Schools, reaching close to 1,500 farmers – a third of those are women. The impact on farmers’ lives is evident: 92% of the latest Farmer Field School graduates found that their profits had increased from the year before.
We make a real difference to farmers by adapting the training to meet their needs. For example, farmers learn how to best become more resilient to climate change. Growing other crops is also covered, such as fruit and vegetables. Not only is this a great extra source of income, but a healthy addition to their diets too. Addressing poor nutrition is in fact a key focus of Farmer Field Schools, given its prevalence in Rwandan tea communities.
Given the breadth of the programme, it is not surprising that 98% of farmers who completed the latest round of training felt their lives had improved as a result of being part of Farmer Field School.
Community savings schemes
ETP works with farmers to develop lending and savings schemes, offering them much needed access to credit. The schemes also function as a savings deposit, with money increasing over time. We’ve established 75 lending and savings groups in Rwanda.
Typically, the average amount saved by farmers on the scheme is almost equivalent to the money they would make in one month from their tea farm. Nearly all the farmers used at least part of the loans to meet longer-term needs for them and their families. Farmers invest their savings in their children’s education and household repairs, such as upgrading their roofs to be more weather resistant.
All the farmers involved in the schemes invested at least a part of the loan in their own entrepreneurial activity, to make some extra money. For example, members of the groups have bought seeds to grow other crops to sell at market. Others have been able to buy chickens, so that they can sell eggs.
We work with farmers to support them to lead and deliver this initiative, and they act as champions in the community. This is key to making our programmes sustainable. Women make up nearly 20% of these leadership roles. Giving women this responsibility is particularly empowering in the Rwandan context, as men are traditionally the ones to make financial decisions.
In Rwanda, it is typically men who control income, land and finances. Women’s role in the workplace is often limited, with few opportunities to progress. Gender-based violence and polygamy are issues that need to be addressed.
We celebrate and champion women in Rwanda, to inspire change. We have recently supported estates and farmer cooperatives to establish gender committees. They are determining action plans to tackle key issues for women in Rwanda. This includes sensitisation on gender-based violence and reporting mechanisms as well as training women on household financial management.
Find out more
In all our work we look to improve the lives of those living and working in tea communities. Read about some of the other programmes ETP runs across Africa and Asia, where we actively support farmers to increase their incomes.