Building Resilience in Rwanda
Credit for newsletter front page and above photo: John Cairns
By Pete Parisetti, Programme Manager at Opportunity International
The concept of savings – the idea of setting aside whatever surplus can be spared in times of relative abundance in order to cater for future difficulties – is ingrained in the subsistence farmer’s mindset. Whenever possible, families use informal mechanisms such as hiding money under the mattress, buying a cow, or setting aside extra food that can be consumed or sold at a time of a crisis. Such traditional practices, however, are not without shortcomings. All it takes is for an animal to get sick, or for a burglary, and a family’s ‘savings’ can be gone in a moment. This leaves poor families financially insecure and vulnerable.
Agricultural communities are under an increasing number of pressures. We recently conducted research on the challenges faced by subsistence farmers in Rwanda. It highlighted that extreme and unpredictable weather is becoming a major threat to already marginal livelihoods. Extended periods of drought may upset the planting calendar and subsequent torrential rains may destroy crops. Rwanda remains largely dependent on agriculture, with some 70% of the population working in subsistence farming. And despite a growing GDP and improvements in life expectancy, literacy and gender equality, 39% of Rwandans population still live below the poverty line.
Opportunity International is working in partnership with farming cooperatives and Urwego Bank in Rwanda to improve the resilience and incomes of smallholder farmers. By improving grassroots-level access to financial services – both directly for individual farmers and through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) - we aim to provide a more flexible and effective way for communities to protect themselves from threats to livelihoods, notably including those posed by climate change. VSLAs, in particular, act as a ‘social safety net’ and can be linked to wider national social protection programmes to support the most vulnerable.
Building on the success of a three-year DFID-funded project to improve crop productivity, farm income and rural livelihoods in Northern and Eastern Rwanda, Opportunity International has secured funding from the Scottish Government to replicate the project in two other provinces, the country’s poorest. The key components of the project are the provision of loans to smallholder farmers and micro-entrepreneurs; training on good agricultural practices and financial literacy; and improved access to savings and other financial services through digital technology.
Together with local communities and partners, Opportunity International is helping to improve rural livelihoods. Savings are key to this. Increasing farmers' financial security and resilience enables them to keep moving forward in building a sustainable and successful future.
Pete and members from Urwego Bank attended The Power of Savings Group (Inclusion, Resilience, Empowerment) conference, on 22nd – 24th May in Kigali, Rwanda.