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Sweet success for female farmers in Rwanda

Statistically, you’re more likely to be living in poverty if you’re a woman.

Compared to men, women have fewer resources, less power and less influence in decision-making. But in this small village at the top of a hill in the Kirehe district of Eastern Rwanda, a group of female pineapple farmers are challenging these odds.

With a helping hand from the Tuzamurane Cooperative — fittingly, the name means “lift up one another” — farmers like Theresie (pictured above) are reaping enough profits to lift themselves up and out of poverty.

The co-op was set up 11 years ago to empower local women with life-changing horticultural skills and improved access to markets and finance — and the results are impressive.

Since joining the cooperative, the women have quadrupled their revenue. But it’s not all about money. With their newfound earning power, they also command greater respect from the men in their communities.

Kirehe district, Rwanda: Tuzamurane cooperative members (from left to right) Theresie, Valerie, Christine, Josepha and Mukeshimana stand outside the co-op centre in Eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville/Oxfam.

Before she joined Tuzamurane, Theresie struggled to pay for food and school fees for her children. She says, “When I couldn’t afford school fees, the children could not go to school, they had to stay at home. I had no peace of mind.”

“I used to ask people to borrow money. I used to show people my bean crops and say, ‘When it’s harvest time, it’s yours’ — just so I could afford school for the children.”

With money so scarce, Theresie was forced to put her own needs aside. She says, “Before joining the cooperative, I could buy a fabric and wear it for three years, taking care of it so that it doesn’t get torn. After three years, I would buy another one. That’s how I lived.”

“It was worrying as I didn’t want to ask for money from my husband.”

Kirehe district, Rwanda: Theresie tends to her organic pineapple farm in Eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville/Oxfam.

Before the cooperative was created, women were growing and selling pineapples on a much smaller scale, for much lower prices. One pineapple would sell for between 50 and 100 Rwandan francs (RWF). Now, co-op pineapples sell for 200 RWF.

Tuzamurane cooperative has paved a pathway for women like Theresie to escape the low income cycle. They can now send their children to school, pay for health care, buy land and invest in other small businesses.

The women grow pineapple crops on their own land and on shared land. The pineapples are taken to the co-op and either sold to be juiced or dried at the in-house processing plant (pictured below).

Kirehe district, Rwanda: Workers peel pineapples at the Tuzamurane pineapple cooperative processing plant in Eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville/Oxfam.

Tuzamurane produces 880 metric tonnes of pineapple a year and exports the dried pineapple to France and throughout Africa. The profits from sales are invested back into the business and shared between co-op members.

Oxfam has helped create links with the banks so the women can access loans to pay for health insurance and school fees. And with help from Oxfam, the farm is now organic certified, which opens up a range of new opportunities for export. We also lobby the Rwandan government to relax unfavourable laws and provide more support to small-scale farmers.

The co-op has given Theresie a new lease on life. She says, “Now I can afford to buy a fabric when I have sold pineapples.”

Kirehe district, Rwanda: Theresie admires tailored fabric she purchased in her home in Eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville/Oxfam.

Theresie has seen a vast increase in her income and her family is no longer trapped in poverty.

She says, “I would tell other women to come and join the cooperative and become pineapple farmers; that they shouldn’t be cultivating on their own; that they should work together with others in order to increase their production.”

Theresie’s husband Pascal (pictured below) says, “I’m very proud of Theresie because when there is money coming in we can save together. We live peacefully, we share together and we are equal. She is a hardworking woman and we make all the decisions together.”

Kirehe district, Rwanda: Theresie takes a break from farming with her husband oustide their house in Eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d’Unienville/Oxfam.

Theresie adds, “What makes me proud is collaborating with my husband. In my point of view, happiness means feeling comfortable at home, getting advice from your husband and vice versa, understanding each other, and fairly enjoying your income.”

Theresie is a loving wife, a proud mother, and a hardworking pineapple farmer with an undeniable penchant for head-turning style. And what’s more, she embodies Oxfam’s vision for Rwanda: a country where women and men enjoy equal rights and benefits of economic development.

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