The Rural Community Support Project (RCSP) promotes the sustainable development of marshlands, hillside rehabilitation and development, and commodity chain development.
The Rural Community Support Project (RCSP) promotes the sustainable development of marshlands, hillside rehabilitation and development, and commodity chain development. Its objective is to develop institutions, mechanisms and capacities that will be able to continue on their own after project completion. It has three long-term objectives:
· Support the Government of Rwanda to achieve its strategic goal for rural growth in order to increase agricultural production and farmers’ income, reduce poverty and improve living conditions;
· Promote a community-based integrated rural development model following the Saemaul Undong approach with beneficiaries’ mindset of self-help, diligence and cooperation;
· Increase agricultural production and marketing in marshland and hillside areas targeted for development under the project in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The project, launched in 2014, is being implemented in six districts, namely Gasabo, Gatsibo, Gicumbi, Muhanga, Nyanza and Ruhango, and will directly reach 7,000 households consisting of smallholders producing or interested in producing the rice, horticulture (fruits and vegetables) and other crops. It focuses on low-income households cultivating up to 0.2 ha in marshland and 0.3 ha in hillside areas that depend predominantly on agriculture to sustain their livelihood.
The Rural Community Support Project is supported by the Republic of Korea for a period of 50 months from November 2014. It is managed by MINAGRI through its Single Project Implementation Unit (SPIU) coordination of Land Husbandry and Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation (LWH) Rural Sector Support Project Phase 3 (RSSP3). Technical support is provided by KOICA through specialists in irrigation, extension, agri-economics and agribusiness. Other project stakeholders include the Rwanda Agricultural Board and District Office or Sector Office of the project areas.
The HIMO approach
HIMO is an approach for the implementation of the Government of Rwanda’s community development policy (April 2008). The acronym stands for Programme de développement local a haute intensité de main-d’oeuvre. It means ‘Labour Intensive Local Development Programme’. HIMO is about ‘not just the mass work but work by masses’. The HIMO approach not only guarantees local employment opportunity bit also ensures the engagement of all, including the poor, youth and vulnerable groups.
Marshland and hillside development is underway in Gasabo (at two sites) and Muhanga (at one site) districts through a labour-intensive local development approach, the HIMO approach (Box 5). It involves communities from the programme villages and other employment seekers from within and outside the project districts. Each farmer/wage worker engaged in the project work has opened an account in in the savings and credit cooperative, where wage payments are deposited. All land owners of marshland and hillside areas have been organized into self-help groups (with about 15 to 25 members per self-help group based on proximity to each other’s land). Each self-help group makes decisions about the cultivation of crops involving its members. Further, self-help groups for marshland development and for hillside development have been structured into separate cooperatives. Marshland cooperatives, mainly engaged in paddy cultivation, are linked with rice millers.
· Inclusive approach for development initiatives: The project follows an inclusive approach not only in the development of assets but also in their distribution. The marshland and hillside work provides local employment opportunity for all types of people in the community, including the young, aged, women and physically challenged, and from locations within and outside the project area. Every person was provided work according to their capacity; for example, an aged or physically challenged person sow seeds in the nursery, women carry soil, and young men break and carry stones. Before work started on the site, people were organized into groups of 30 with a mix of men, women, elderly, etc. When in some cases there was a lot of work and people from other districts wanted to participate, district authorities made arrangements for travel, food and lodging at cost (which was deducted from the wage payment).
The developed marshland (belonging to the government) was then equally distributed by the district authorities among all the participants of the village. The land distribution process prioritized specialized groups such as the very poor, widows and youth to ensure they were covered.
· Programme integrated with sector-level and national programmes: The implementation team works closely with the Sector Offices of the project’s operational areas, as agreed in the MoU between MINAGRI and the Sector Office. The project’s interventions have become part of the district performance contract system (Imihigo). The Sector Office assists with community mobilization in the beginning of the programme at new sites and subsequently plays a critical role in marshland distribution as well as sorting out compensation. The RCSP Project Officer participates in a weekly management meeting at the Sector Office along with Sector Executive Secretary and Sector Agronomist. Further, the Sector Office works through the Sector Agronomist to link the project work with national programmes such as land consolidation. As a result, farmers receive advisory support from the next level of government agronomist as well as subsidized improved seeds and fertilizers to enhance productivity.
· Effective use of home-grown solutions for community mobilization: In addition to Ubudehe and Imihigo, the project is using home-grown solutions such as Umuganda community work and RAB’s Twigere Muhinzi programme, a home-grown initiative for farmer-to-farmer agricultural extension. At the project sites in Gasabo district, communities are organized in self-help groups of about 15 to 25 persons based on the land proximity. Some of the groups have started taking up maintenance work of terraces and marshland through Umuganda. Two people selected form each self-help group are selected as Lead Farmers for agriculture and receive regular information about agricultural extension services from the cell- and village-level members of the Twigere Muhinzi programme and guidance to develop demonstration farms, all of which helps them to serve as group-level facilitators.
· Limitations of SACCOs: The savings and credit cooperative is an important institution for the Rural Community Support Project’s access to finance. However, there are some inherent limitations to SACCO in terms of its reach to all people in the sector, systematization of the processes and capacity to lend. For example, participants working at Gasagara cell in Rongi sector in the district of Muhanga need to walk for 40 to 50 minutes or pay Rwf 2,000 round trip to travel to the SACCO to make any transaction. Also, the SACCO is not set up at present to manage cash transfer for 3,000 members per sector every fortnight. The project relies on the SACCO for major components of cash transfer as well as loans for income generation activities; this overreliance may affect implementation of the SMU approach if, rather than readily attaining services they need for investing in their development needs, people keep money with them and spend on unplanned activities.
· The provisioning approach is a challenge to introduce SMU approach: The Rural Community Support Project has provided communities with many resources, including support for a large-scale employment opportunity working on their own plot. In addition, they have received free lime and compost, a piece of marshland to cultivate, and support for training and study visits. From the beginning, the project has been involved in provisioning the communities. Though this is essential, is also raises the communities’ expectations. As a result, some participants expect further free support for their activities. Such an attitude, lacking in self-reliance, may pose some challenges to the introduction of the SMU approach.
· Interior and remote areas of operation pose particular challenges: Most of the selected project areas are remotely located and have poor road connectivity, especially for the work sites in marshland. As a result, the cost of transportation becomes high, reducing the returns to participants on their production. Similarly, it is a challenge for the community to access financial as well as health and extension services.
· The SMU approach be introduced right from the start: The SMU approach was introduced in the middle of the project (when almost half of the implementation was over); in retrospect, the RCSP project team said it is best to bring in the SMU approach from the beginning. One effective activity was the introduction of Lead Farmers, which matches with the SMU approach and facilitates community problem-solving around issues such as conflict management, maintenance of community assets, advice on agricultural activities, sharing of information from government programmes, etc. On the other hand, as noted above, community expectations of continued support have been raised by the project’s provision of support in the form of guaranteed employment (for marshland and hillside development), supply of lime and compost for free, and purchase of compost from farmers.. The lesson learned is that it is important to have comprehensive thinking about the programme to make the community self-reliant, and not only think of SMU as an activity to be initiated. In other words, the best time to start thinking about the SMU approach is ‘the sooner the better’. However, if efforts are already underway, ‘better late than never’ is the time to introduce SMU, irrespective of stage of operation of the programme.
· The HIMO approach to public works is effective: HIMO is about ‘not just the mass work but work by masses’ (Box 5). Within a span of one year, the project team completed a large-scale endeavour using the HIMO approach to labour-intensive local development. At each project site more than 500 persons were consistently engaged for about one year to develop community assets (marshland and hillside development). The inclusive approach facilitated engagement of all, including women, youth, widows, the aged and physically challenged, and helped the community to complete the entire cycle of work, moving from land development to cultivation to linkage with the market within in one year. In another measure, the project organized communities into self-help groups based on land proximity among the members. This facilitated joint decision making on crop selection, sowing and harvesting and thus furthered mass production for the market. These early gains can be sustained further through the SMU approach by strengthening community contributions and community structures, facilitating communities to act on their newer needs, introducing effective financial services, and guiding consistent engagement with markets as a united community.
· Practicing SMU through farmer to farmer learning: Lessons passed from farmer to farmer have strengthened the RCSP project not only in agriculture but also in various aspects of community development. This builds on best practices of a previous project (RSSP) implemented by the MINAGRI. For example, when the community from the Muhanga project area visited the RSSP’s Karongi community, they realized benefits of bringing in their harvest together, engaging with markets and managing water resources more effectively through water users committee. Community members planned to initiate similar interventions without waiting for project implementation teams. Similarly, establishing five Lead Farmers for each self-help group has facilitated communication between the community and government programmes and markets that offer services; it has also improved the planning and management skills of the community through their own structures of self-help groups and cooperatives. Lead Farmers play important roles as facilitators and in mediating conflict management at household level, keeping records of the harvest, helping groups in selection of crops and accessing inputs, initiating infrastructure (like terraces) maintenance work, and so on. These initial signs of self-reliance have potential to grow further.
· Hillside development is equally important to marshland development: Considering various operational sites, the average ratio of area of marshland to hillside is approximately 1:5. More people are engaged in hillside cultivation, as a factor of Rwandan topography. Hillside development can become more profitable with the introduction of better cultivation techniques, for example, the new potato cultivation method developed in the NIRDP project can increase farm income substantially. The proper treatment of hillsides for reduction of soil erosion is essential for sustainable management of marshlands. Therefore, due to their environmental impact on marshland development projects, hillside development should be given priority. When their development is combined, they work in synergy for greater impact, leading to sustainable resource management and improved livelihoods in an environmentally-friendly manner.
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