New saving possibilities to empower women and youth in rural Rwanda: a story about bridging theory and practice [Blog I of III]

By Christine and Chantal,

Being able to put one’s research results into action offers a great opportunity. On the one hand (the challenging one), it provides new working experiences for researchers, while, on the other hand (the more important one), local communities can benefit directly from the results of the new research. In September 2018, the ‘Rwandan team’ of Chantal Ingabire, Christine Bigler and Eliud Birachi, together with Ulf Liebe and Michèle Amacker, successfully began a financial inclusion project in the Northern Province of Rwanda. It offers an exciting story of bridging theory and practice, and we decided to structure it in three individual blogs. This first blog gives the reader background information on the core research activities that led to the ongoing project. The second blog will discuss the mid-term evaluation, and the third will present the ultimate findings.


A researcher (Chantal Ingabire) in action. @biglerchristine

Rwanda’s ongoing agricultural and social transformation

The transformation of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and Rwanda is widely viewed as offering a way out of poverty that could secure women and men’s prosperity and wellbeing. Economic growth and diversification in the agricultural value chain are expected to accompany the commercialisation of agriculture. A good climate and topographical conditions make Rwanda’s agriculture sector a major player in its economic expansion, and those elements are crucial to sustainable development and the improvement of small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. The government of Rwanda is focusing on the transformation of agriculture from primarily subsistence-oriented to market-oriented production. The primary elements of the agricultural policies are land consolidation, the intensive use of fertilizer and quality seeds, a shift from mixed cropping to mono-cropping, crop regionalisation and the development of cooperatives. In addition to these efforts at economic transformation, the post-genocide government has pushed for a social transformation through women-friendly policies and has placed gender equality at the core of its new development strategy. Consequently, the country has experienced a remarkable increase of agricultural productivity and the commercialisation of some staple crops, including maize, rice, potatoes and beans. Moreover, Rwanda is in good shape internationally with regard to gender equality, and the country is recognised as a role model. According to ‘The Global Gender Gap Index’ (2018), it ranks sixth out of 149 countries, higher than many Western European countries.

On-field causal workers: a feminised employment group with a strong preference for saving options

The main drivers of agricultural transformation are agribusiness companies, market-oriented cooperatives and individual farmers whom the government has supported through various strategies. The direct effect of this transformation is the creation of jobs on both small- and large-scale farms. The rural labour market is dominated by the informal sector, mainly smallholder farming and agricultural casual workers. The results of the first phase of the Feminisation Agricultural Transition and rural Employment (FATE) project indicate that women and men do not face the same constraints and opportunities in the transition to market-oriented agriculture. The agriculture sector is highly gendered, with women being overrepresented in primary production at the farm level and in low-paid agricultural casual work. It was also apparent that women earn approximately 20% less than men for the same work.

Other major findings of this research are that agricultural casual work is feminised and that women have a strong preference for saving options in work contracts. Of this employment group, the results indicate that the majority are young women with very limited agricultural and non-agricultural skills and little access to finance. These casual workers long to accumulate savings from their daily wages, but the current system does not afford them this option. On the one hand, their wages are low, while, on the other, the burdens of urgent family needs rest mainly on their shoulders. This makes it difficult for them to diversify beyond agriculture or to save money to invest in their meagre land during the next agricultural season.


Agricultural casual workers harvest pyrethrum. @biglerchristine

Putting research into action – economic empowerment of rural women and youth through skills acquisition and access to finance

Based on these findings, the ‘Rwandan team’ began an initiative with the goal of improving the economic situation of rural women and youth by increasing their access to formal financial institutions and providing them with necessary technical skills.


The project`s implementation plan. Source: Chantal Ingabire.

This initiative incorporates two components. First, we provide a training program for women and youth groups to equip them with the necessary technical and financial skills. Second, the project works together with agribusiness companies, which employ the agricultural casual workers over a whole agricultural season. The initiative was also introduced to local Saving and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) that facilitate the process of opening group accounts for the interested wage workers. The employed agricultural casual workers can choose between two distinct working contracts: the ‘Status-Quo Contract’ and the ‘Saving Contract’. If they choose the ‘Status-Quo Contract’, they are employed over the season and get their usual daily salary. If they choose the ‘Saving Contract’, they get 80% of their daily salary each evening. The remaining 20% is saved in a bank account. At the end of the agricultural season, the saved money is paid out, but the workers who chose to participate in this initiative are also free to withdraw their savings whenever they judge that the funds are strongly needed. The idea was to facilitate them putting their savings in a formal, secure financial institution. An expected outcome of this intervention is that the self-selected groups of women and youth will improve their financial access and economic situation, allowing them not only to upgrade their status in smallholder farming but also to have opportunities to diversify their livelihoods.

Meeting with agricultural casual workers and agribusiness leaders. @biglerchristine

We hope to see you back for the next blog about the mid-term evaluation of this ongoing and exciting financial inclusion project.

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