Women make up 51.8% of Rwandan population, according to the 2012 General Population and Housing Census. Reports also indicate that 14–35 year olds make up 39% of the total population of Rwanda of all ages. This clearly shows that women and youth are indispensable labor for Rwanda; especially for agriculture sector — the biggest employer of the country.
Indeed, the reality is that the agriculture sector is worked mainly by women with lowest levels of schooling and highest rates of illiteracy.
As a result, women remain in the subsistence agriculture, they receive low prices for their products due to lack of market intelligence, they lack capacities to participate in agri-business and are employed in lowly paid positions in secondary agriculture. All these are likely to result in a cycle of poverty that can transcend generations.
In addition, 30% of the country’s households are female-headed and most of them are poor. The increasing number of female headed households in the rural areas makes agriculture vulnerable to any type of shock events because women rarely have asset stocks nor financial savings because of their foundation of being illiterate, poor and stereotyped to be subordinate to male counterparts be it at household and community levels.
In spite of this, women contribute immensely to the agriculture value chain by providing labor for planting, weeding, harvesting and processing in addition to reproductive activities and community work. They also produce and sell vegetables from home gardens or forest products and the income obtained is mainly used on meeting family food, health and education needs.
And for youth, reports indicate that many young Rwandan people are unpaid family farm workers as their main job, at 38% in total. The next most common categories for main jobs are waged non-farm work (21%), independent farmers (17%), waged farm (11%), and independent non-farm (10%).
The main trend across age groups is a large reduction in the number of male unpaid family farm workers, from 41% for 14 to 19 year olds to just 3% for 30 to 35 year olds.
By contrast, more than half of females remain as unpaid family farm workers, from when they are 14 to 35.
Overall, this means that males have a much higher chance of leaving agriculture as their primary job as they get older than females.
This is the picture of major labor in Rwanda’s agriculture sector. Obviously women and youth can help the country to take the sector to take it to the next level once these categories are given special attention.
Then, it’s wise to take advantage of this crucial labor – both women and youth – in the country where over 80% of population relies directly or indirectly on agriculture. Hopefully, we can expect something significant to happen from Agriculture Gender Strategy put in place by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources; given that the government of Rwanda has made a strong political commitment to gender equity and equality and is determined to see this reflected in government policies at all levels.
Of course, this can’t happen all of a sudden unless there is a favorable environment for these categories of the population to obtain all it takes to get successfully engaged in the sector. Business guidance and support to women and youth entrepreneurs is also crucial to increasing their chances for long-term success.
I would say that agriculture guarantee fund for women and youth entrepreneurs (of up to 75% while others get 50% of the total collateral value provided by Business Development Fund [BDF]) is a good thing towards achieving the favorable environment in Rwanda.
Since many face financial illiteracy, it is also important to intensify activities in providing capacity building and training programs in financial literacy for women and youth entrepreneurs.
Clearly, creating enabling environment for women and youth can give a boost to our agriculture sector; thus booming the country’s economy.