Towards Climate Adaptations in Rwanda: Beneficiaries Testify Felt Changes

Submitted by on 11 November 2022

Beneficiaries of the Regional Project – Adapting to Climate Change Adaptation in Lake Victoria Basin (ACC-LV) Project – coordinated by Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) in Rwanda shared their stories of change on November,3rd 2022 during the Project Monitoring visit comprised of  Kirehe District authorities and LVBC Project Monitoring team. Testimonies established a shift from community vulnerability to self-reliance and climate resilience.

The purpose of the visit, according to Peter Kamau, the Chief Technical Advisor (TTL) for the Project is twofold: promoting community exchanges of adaptation technologies and practices for lessons learning and monitoring of results. The latter would inform scalability and replication.

Project beneficiaries’ stories centered on benefits of climate proofing locally applied as house-wall plastering, expanded livelihood alternatives through tailoring, hairdressing and most importantly, regeneration of interests by Insurance Company in Rice crop farmed in expansive Akagera wetland.

Consistent with promotion of lesson learning and community exchanges of climate adaptation technologies, some members of community underscored the value in shifting dependability from unpredictable rains for agriculture to tailoring, indoor goat rearing and pig farming deemed predictable and viable income generative alternatives.

The project implemented in three sectors; Gatore, Musaza and Gahara Sectors of Kirehe District, Eastern Province of Rwanda sought to increase climate resilience in Lake Victoria Region through regional and community-based climate change adaptation interventions/technologies.

To ensure sustainability, selection of climate adaptable technologies and practices was community-led. Ease of sharing knowledge drawn from implemented micro-income projects confirmed community-centeredness in project planning and implementation. Testimonies shared mainly related to project outcome three – which sought to transfer of climate change adaptation technologies to communities to reduce their vulnerabilities to climate change.

Kirehe District is characteristically a drier zone; prone to prolonged drought proceeded by heavy rains causing soil erosion, crop destruction and a myriad of socio-economic negative impacts at households and community levels. “This region either suffered from drought or floods. Crops always got hit by the two natural phenomena,” said Goreth Mukagasana, one of the beneficiaries of Pig Farm Project code-named ‘Turwanye Imirire Mibi’ Community Initiative.

A day-old piglets breastfeeding from their mother in Musaza Sector Pig farming micro-project 

She contends, their pig farm consisting of 17 pigs and 35 piglets, will be more rewarding than relying on subsistence farming. After all, she emphasized, “managing a pig farm is more predictable than a subsistence farm.” Mukagasana’s story resonated with Rwanda’s strategic direction of promoting off-farm activities as a pathway towards wealth creation under the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) implemented in 2017-2024. The strategy seeks to consolidate gains from the previous development blueprint– increased life expectancy from 49 in 2000 to 66.6 in 2017, reduced extreme poverty from 40% to 16% over the same period (EDPRS, Rwanda.)

The Adaptation to Climate Change in Lake Victoria Basin is also consistent with Rwanda’s Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy (2017-2024). Shifting from subsistence farms to more organized activities is not an easy undertaking, especially in rural set-up formerly and overly relying on rain-fed agriculture. However, commitments echoed by Mukagasana and other members – transitioning from their micro-income generating community initiative to a cooperative indicate a drive towards off-farm as an alternative source of livelihoods. In their view, farming in Akegera wetland is risky. Besides being a climate risk, her fears indicated gender-based risks. Achievability of their goal – from a nascent micro-income initiative to a cooperative is a worth-while pursuit and it is also a prioritized target by the Government of Rwanda under its development blueprint (NSTI) and Vision 2050. With fast-multiplying piglets, members of Turwanye Imirere Mibi Community Initiative, believe they are on track towards their dream – a Pig Farm Cooperative in Kirehe District.

Stories of changes range from access to drinkable water through 160 supplied and installed rainwater harvesting plastic tanks, enhanced socio-economic livelihoods as a result of 170 km of rehabilitated gully to regenerating Akagera wetland. Regeneration of the wetland was a result of reduced water velocity which formerly deposited unfertile muds and siltation from the facing hills. Constructed gabions and other regenerative nature-based solutions have acted as a retention wall against volumes of water flowing from hills adjacently facing swatches of rice farms in Akagera wetland. 

Managing expansive Akegera wetland to reduce water-induced erosions and other invasive species is in tandem with LVBC’s mandate of coordinating state and non-state actors towards climate resilience and environmental sustainability through programmatic interventions in the EAC Partner States within Lake Victoria Basin: Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.  ACC-LVB implementation took a similar regional arrangement.

Contextualizing testimonies of project beneficiaries, Peter Kamau, Project Chief Technical Advisor (CTA) noted, “I have noted from testimonies that an Insurance company has expressed interest of working with communities to ensure their rice farms against climate risks. This is unintended outcome from the project intervention. It will make a huge difference.”

As for Ngendahayo Etienne, a chili farmer, at least each member of the Chili Community Initiative have paid a mutual Health Insurance popularly known as ‘Mutuelle de Sante” in Rwanda. He added, “all our members have paid ‘Ejo Heza, [a community-based Social Security Scheme in Rwanda].” The foregoing benefits accrued from 1,700,000 Rwf of one season Chili harvest triggering some celebrations amongst members.

While Chili farming is equally exposed to weather extremes in Kirehe – drought and floods – according to Ngendahayo, the difference lies in 1,700,000 Rwf harvested from Chili farming on a small piece of land. Chili farming and monetary benefits thereof reduced over-reliance on weather reliant subsistence farming especially in Akagera wetland.  Clarifying Ndendahayo’s storyline, Peter Kamau noted, “there is an emerging realization of the linkages between community adaptation, climate resilience and economic empowerment. This is how Ngendahayo’s story is valid.”

In same line of reasoning, specifically promoting adaptation and community livelihood improvements, Adaptation to Climate Change in Lake Victoria Basin Project has supported community tailoring initiative as another strategy of expanding alternative sources of income in Kirehe District of Eastern Province of Rwanda.

Through tailoring, widowed homes no longer go hungry. The foregoing example in Kirehe District gains credence in view of the fact relating to food insecurity as an integral part of climate crisis. Financial resources drawn from tailoring have supplemented weather dependent subsistence crop farming.  Maria Rose Mukashyaka from Rubuye village, Kirehe District testified thus, “monies from tailoring significantly reduced malnutrition cases in our village.”

As off-farm activities, tailoring and hairdressing evidence gender-based climate resilience and reducing reliance to weather patterns for household and community survival.

 Testimonies relating to benefits of climate proofing echo the multi-faceted relationship between socio-economic livelihood improvements and climate change adaptations in rural communities of East African Partner States. Praises for the plastered 160 houses in Kigarama Village, Lwatonda Cell, Gatore Sector of Kihere District, Eastern Province of Rwanda validate the benefits of climate proofing – a concept advanced by climate change experts to mean mainstreaming climate change into development practices/actions.

However, from beneficiaries’ perspectives, plastered houses express the essence of human dignity and reduced climate-induced house wall-wearing off predominantly for the mud-made houses. Relatedly, benefits of installed water-harvesting plastic tanks range beyond restoration of human dignity.  Accessing drinking water which was formerly scarce because of climate-induced droughts has triggered other social changes – school-going children are no longer distracted by household water fetching activity, but concentrate on their academic studies. Elderly group as part of the project beneficiaries have more noteworthy stories relative to how access to water has reduced water-based expenses.

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