Fonerwa Knowledge Sharing Portal

The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project

The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities project was launched by the World Food Programme in 2012.
The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project – Phase I

The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities project was launched by the World Food Programme in 2012 to improve food security, increase living standards and reduce poverty in vulnerable communities in Cyanika, a sector of Rwanda’s Nyamagabe district. SZHC is a long-term development model integrating three different poverty reduction and community development concepts:
·         The Republic of Korea’s Saemaul Undong Model, an approach to rural development that empowers communities in decision making;  
·         World Food Programme’s Food Assistance for Assets model, which focuses on building or recovering productive assets in communities that impact people’s food security; and
·         The Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), a social protection programme that uses the existing decentralization system towards poverty reduction.
The project is supported by the Republic of Korea, which funded Phase I as a three-year pilot programme from 2012 to 2015 and has continued its support for Phase II, to run another three years from 2016 to 2018.
The present case study focuses on SZHC Phase I. Starting in 2012, the project was implemented in six villages (Birambo, Gasharu, Munyinya, Karaba, Karama and Rwamagana) and reached out to more than 800 households. The majority of participants farmed small plots on steep-sloping land, which was prone to erosion. They were vulnerable to a high level of food insecurity and malnutrition. The project supported various interventions to build community assets and improve food security, including road rehabilitation, land terracing and marshland development. It facilitated infrastructure development and imparted training for community capacity building. It also promoted income generation activities through savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs).
At the grassroots level, the Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities project organized community members in Village Development Committees (VDCs). Two VDCs were formed – one for the cluster of Biramo, Gasharu and Munyinya villages and other for the cluster of Karaba, Karama and Rwamagana villages. Each VDC was supported by subcommittees for water, land terraces, infrastructure and income generation activities. The two VDCs were linked together to form a cooperative to facilitate management of financial resources and engagement with government and other agencies. WFP managed the programme in partnership with two non-governmental organizations, Good Neighbors and Unity Club. Good Neighbors managed all livelihood and related capacity building initiatives, while Unity Club worked to enhance unity and reconciliation processes in the community.
Overall project management for SZHC Phase I was carried out through a Technical Committee and Steering Committee. The Technical Committee was comprised of a VDC representative, Sector Executive Secretary, representatives from the implementing partner NGOs (Good Neighbors and the Unity Club), and WFP field staff representative. The group addressed challenges in implementation, discussed what needed to be changed or improved and referred specific issues to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee was comprised of representatives from the WFP Country Office, Unity Club and Good Neighbors as well as the mayor of the district and sector officers. It met quarterly and provided guidance to the overall project.
Figure 2: Project management structure for SZHC Phase I
(Place graphic here)
The project produced a number of outcomes.[1] Improvements were tracked before and after the programme: the yield of major crops increased by 20 to 50 percent; household food consumption improved, up from 68.5 to 79 percent of households reported to reach the acceptable limit; primary school dropout rates declined from 3 to 0 percent; and households consuming clean drinking water increased from 12.5 to 60 percent. The success of SZHC Phase I inspired discussion among WFP, KOICA, MINAGRI, Good Neighbors and Nyamagabe district authorities to initiate SZHC Phase II.
Key results
The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities project operated for three years from 2012 to 2015 in the six villages of Birambo, Gasharu, Munyinya, Karaba, Karama and Rwamagana in Cyanika sector. Not only does its positive impact continue, but a second phase has been initiated, based on its success.
·         The principles of the SMU approach are well-accepted by the community: The programme creates space for communities to share their needs, ideas, plans and actions in the forums of Village Development Committees and Technical Committees. These forums are nurtured in a way to enhance unity, cooperation and local leadership development. The community groups work independently and plan for their actions. Like the SMU model implemented in the Republic of Korea, the volunteers and community leaders are not paid for their facilitation work but recognized and respected. The leaders take initiative in promoting the community contribution, e.g. one day’s labour payment is contributed towards the community development fund for every 15 days wage work on project activities.
·         Community-level activities are integrated with programmes at the sector and national levels: The programme governance structure gives voice to the community to engage at sector level, represented by a VDC member in the Technical Committee along with representatives from implementation agencies and the Sector. Further, the sector links the community to national programmes, for example, when the communities complete land terracing and marshland development work, they are linked to national-level land consolidation efforts. As a result, small farmers gain advisory support from the government agronomist as well as improved seeds and fertilizers to enhance their productivity.
·         Opportunities for sustainable livelihood are created: The project’s strong focus on asset-building interventions enhances productivity, increases crop diversity and contributes to food security through sustainable land management work. For example, some 138ha of land was terraced in the project villages, which resulted in a 20 to 50 percent increase in the yield of major crops such as beans, cassava, sorghum, maize and sweet potato.[2] The project also inculcates savings habit and encourages contribution of wage work to promote income generation activities and maintain a Community Development Fund. For the six village combined, this fund totaled some Rwf 34 million as of September 2015. By this time, some 130 people had received loans from the SACCO and either started micro-enterprises or purchased a livestock.[3] With community structures (e.g. VDC and subcommittees, cooperatives and SACCO support) in place, the interventions will continue to benefit the community beyond the project period.
·         Facilitation of the SMU approach is effective: The roles of the implementation teams and the Sector Office are effective in facilitating the SMU approach in communities. The Good Neighbors programme staff developed an excellent understanding of the community processes. They were not driven by activity targets but learned to sense the level of community mobilization and accordingly plan the interventions and shift responsibilities to the community at the right time. The Sector Office complemented the NGO efforts through its regular monitoring, identification of additional community needs and linkages with national programmes. Sector-level support played a key role in improving loan repayment for income generation activities and guiding Community Development Fund management. This facilitation process created synergy among key stakeholders – community, implementation teams and Sector Office – to perform and complement each other through their respective roles. These efforts contributed to Cyanika sector being ranked first in ‘Performance Contract Achievements’ in Nyamagabe district.
The project was implemented in six villages and reached out to more than 800 households. It encountered a range of challenges from mindset to lack of capacity in communities.
·         When a community is used to stereotypical and traditional interventions and expecting hand-outs: The community was accustomed to carrying out donor-driven interventions and receiving support such as a stipend for attending trainings or payment for services of village leaders and facilitators, as had been the case in programmes of other agencies. Community members expected the SZHC programme to indicate activities or, if prodded, they would talk about activities taken up by other agencies in nearby villages; however, they did not propose interventions related to their own needs. The clash of this approach against the SMU community-driven approach was the first major barrier and as a result the beginning was slow.
·         When past events continue to affect daily life: When the programme started, many of the judgments on the 1994 genocide were pending with courts, and this affected a few project villages. The SMU approach emphasizes ‘community first’ but some people had strong reservations about working with others in their community given their recent history of conflict. It was difficult for some people to sit together even for programme meetings. However, with the progress of the programme there was a change in the mindset of the communities and increased collaboration.
·        When a community has no experience managing a community fund: Supporting the management of the Community Development Fund was one of the challenges. It was problematic for communities, especially when they did not have previous experience with a CDF and were not cohesive. The programme faced this problem of management once a sizable amount of labour payment contribution had accumulated in the CDF account. For the programme’s second phase, guidelines are planned for fund usage involving the Sector Office, programme implementation teams and community leaders.
Lesson learned
·         With flexibility in implementation, the SMU approach makes programmes multi-dimensional: Previous WFP programmes placed more emphasis on activities and less on organizing communities. With the adoption of the SMU approach, however, targeted interventions were completed alongside the emergence of newer ideas of Community Development Fund creation, income generation through microenterprises, initiatives on peace and reconciliation, working through committees and sub-committees, and group farming. Some new activities were not thought about in the initial programme design but were incorporated with the progress of programme. The flexibility to work and accumulate ideas and actions helped make the programme multi-dimensional as well as sustainable.
·         Giving voice to the community is important: This helps the programme team to understand community members’ ideas and enhances community ownership of its processes and results. Though the community was submissive initially, as time passed, individuals started making some suggestions and when they found that their suggestions were accepted, they started showing interest. Their increased engagement can be seen in the VDC’s book of meeting minutes, where entries have increased in size over a period of time. Today, the VDC and its sub-committees are conducting their meeting independently, sending minutes to Good Neighbors and the Sector Office, and deciding when and whom (from authorities) to invite for meetings. The ongoing process has enabled the community to take the responsibility and ownership of actions.
·         Integration of Ubudehe and Umuganda enriches the SMU approach: The most vulnerable households are those with an Ubudehe poverty ranking Category 1, meaning they do not have shelter; such households are identified by the community during the village meetings. With support from the SZHC project, houses were constructed for these families and all community members contributed their labour work during Umuganda, the homegrown initiative in which the community meets to take up voluntary community work, often on the last Saturday of each month. The approach of using Ubudehe and Umuganda in project interventions has strengthened community cohesion as well as inclusiveness. It has helped to develop a relationship among people that reflects the alternative local name of ‘Isano’ (meaning ‘relationship’ in Kinyarwanda) given to Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project by the community.
·        Changing mindset is a process and the SMU approach makes it possible: SMU approach is based on community actions – their participation, their planning, their decision making. Initially, it was a challenge to work with the mindset of a community still reeling under the history of genocide and showing a lack of pro-activeness in expressing needs. There was no quick fix solution to address such issues. The SMU approach has made a difference in their thinking over time. It has consistently focused on community activities (e.g. land development, community hall development, school construction, road development, group farming), bringing people from different villages together, sharing the changes that SMU approach brought in South Korea, continuous dialogue/sharing meetings and effective use of Ubudehe and Umuganda. When individuals started seeing that as a community they can move forward together much more effectively, the working relations among people also started changing in a positive way. This has paved the way for unity, reconciliation and belief in themselves.
Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project – Phase II
The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project is an integrated rural development project that combines elements of the Republic of Korea’s experience in rural development called the New Village Movement (Saemaul Undong) with the World Food Programme’s Food Assistance for Assets schemes and the Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Umurenge (VUP). After the successful completion of Phase I from 2012 to 2015, WFP received funding from the Republic of Korea to implement Phase II from 2016 to 2018.  
The KOICA-supported scale up builds on lessons learned in the six-village pilot in the Cyanika sector of Nyamagabe district. SZHC Phase II will work to reduce hunger and under nutrition in food insecure areas and households in more than 100 villages in the Kamegiri, Mukura and Ruganda sectors in the districts of Karongi, Nyamagabe and Rutsiro. To achieve this goal, it plans to improve access to livelihood assets and enable people, communities and the country to meet their own food and nutrition needs. The three-year project will be implemented from the second half of 2016. This case study discusses similarities and differences between Phase I and Phase II, and introduces the major planned programme interventions of the second phase, which are to:
·         Improve access to productive assets through Cash for Work interventions;
·         Increase agricultural production, income generation and livelihood opportunities;
·         Empower vulnerable groups;
·         Build capacity of the community and local government to own and manage home-grown development initiatives.
The first phase was piloted in six villages of one district covering 798 households. The second phase will expand to three sectors in three districts covering 15,684 households. The project plans to reach 70,000 inhabitants of which 21,000 people residing in 107 villages will be direct beneficiaries who will participate in Cash for Work.
As in the first phase, community members will be organized through Village Development Committees. VDCs are bodies formed by electing members from three villages with gender parity and equal village representation. The VDC will remain as main agent of change and will be engaged in programme planning, design and implementation. It will take increased responsibility for the progress of the programme through developing key activities such as farming, income generation activities and animal husbandry. The VDC will manage the community development fund in association with the Sector Office. It will also review loan applications for income generation activities.
SZHC II will be managed by WFP in partnership with three NGOs in Rwanda: Good Neighbors, World Vision and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Each agency will take responsibility for programme implementation in one district of the three districts (Karongi, Nyamagabe and Rutsiro).
As in the first phase, overall project management will be carried out through a district-level Technical Committee and Steering Committee. In each of the three districts, the Technical Committee will include a VDC representative, member from each implementing NGO, Sector Executive Secretary and WFP field representative. It will discuss challenges in implementation, make decisions about changes and improvements, and refer specific issues to the Steering Committees. The Steering Committee will include the Mayor of the district as well as representatives from the WFP Country Office and implementing NGO. It will meet quarterly and provide overall guidance to the project. WFP is working with MINALOC and MINAGRI in the project design.
·         While reflecting the globalized concept of SMU, the Phase II focus is on customizing SMU for the Rwandan context: Implementing the almost 40-year-old SMU approach in a new location with a new environment may not be identical to the original, though the basic principles of operation remain the same. The project is customizing the SMU in the context of Rwanda. This process of customization has a number of features:
-          Applying the learning of SZHC I to develop SZHC II: Compared with SZHC I, it focuses more on livelihoods and this in turn will have an impact on education and nutrition. The role of the community is embedded in each activity. As in the first phase, the mechanism of engaging with sector and district government will be through the Technical Committee and Steering Committee.
-          Integration with home-grown solutions: Three home-grown initiatives – Ubudehe, Imihigo and Umuganda – will be internalized in programme implementation. In Cash for Work, income generation and supply of inputs, community groups will prioritize selection of Ubudehe category I and II (very poor and poor) participants. Each selected village and enrolled household will establish its own Imihigo performance contract system, which can become basis for introducing SMU approach. It will also link the programme interventions with sector and district Imihigos. Further, the platform of Umuganda community work will be used for sharing information and updating about the SZHC project through sector officials.
-          Community-based planning mechanism: This mechanism will be introduced as a starting point in the project to plan interventions, mobilize communities and promote a sense of ownership while ensuring sustainability of the work.
·         A market orientation is an essential ingredient for promoting SMU: The project has developed a market-based approach that empowers people to make their own decisions, provides choices to select from the market as per their need, and makes people more important players in the value chain. In Phase II, this market orientation is seen in three programmatic areas:
-          The project has selected Cash for Work over Food for Work: Initial analysis of markets guided the WFP to make the logical shift from in-kind food transfers to cash transfers, both in Phase I and Phase II. Analysis showed that in the local and nearby markets, supply can meet the demand. The orientation of the programme towards market development starts from this point.
-          More emphasis is placed on income generation activities: More than 40 percent of the project budget will go towards access to better inputs and a revolving loan fund. Priority will be given to micro-enterprise development wherein people can decide what is more appropriate for them and accordingly make the choice.
-          More private sector engagement: WFP plans to build capacity of community groups in managing commercial contracts using its own Purchase for Progress (P4P)[4] initiative. Further, it aims to engage the groups with national markets and commercial traders. Such interventions will help the groups become important players in private sector supply chains, with companies coming to rely on them.
·         Targeting homogenous community groups is crucial for SMU success: Three sectors (Kamegiri, Mukura and Ruganda) from three districts (Karongi, Nyamagabe and Rutsiro) districts have been selected for the programme based on specific criteria. The key parameters are: (1) growth potential for agriculture; (2) food insecurity; and (3) level of unemployment. They directly correspond to the project goal of ‘reducing hunger and under nutrition by improving household access to livelihoods’. Such criteria help to target homogenous groups of communities, which will facilitate programme implementation with the SMU approach.
·         Access to financial services with reference to the programme’s market orientation: Savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs) are an important institution in the country. SACCOs not only create opportunity for access to finance for interior villages but also contribute to increased financial literacy among rural communities. The wage payment for the programme-related work as well as credit for microfinance activities will be routed through the SACCOs in the respective sectors. Some challenges are anticipated. SACCOs are located at the sector or cell level and families may need to walk for 15 to 60 minutes to visit a SACCO office for transactions. This distance may push people to withdraw a large amount in one transaction and to keep that cash with them. It may also lead to spending on unplanned activities instead of their short- and medium-term development needs. Also, managing the cash transfers of an average 3,000 project participants per sector on every fortnight may burden the existing set-up of SACCOs. Thus, there may be some limitations to quick access to financial services from SACCOs in the project area in terms of reach and operational capacity. Fees present another challenge. A member of a savings and credit cooperative is required to pay about Rwf 7,000 towards Share Capital to open the account and Rwf 1,000 per year for account maintenance. Additionally, SACCOs charge Rwf 300 for every fortnightly wage payment, which adds up to about Rwf 4,800 for eight months wage work. This means a participant may lose about 12 to 13 days of wage payment (out of about 150 days of wage work) to the SACCO in the first year of the project. The plan is to reduce this burden on community in SZHC II by paying SACCO charges for transactions from the project support.
·         Risk of centralized accumulation of community contribution: The project plans to keep the contribution from communities through Cash for Work and other activities in the Village Development Fund. It proposes to manage the funds involving the Sector Office as well as members of the Village Development Committee. These methods may increase the complexity of management as the resources become centralized. As a result, it may adversely affect the trust among the community, which is crucial to maintaining the spirit of SMU. 
1.      Develop agenda and action plan for influencing policy and programmes through SMU approach: As stated, the Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Project is an integrated rural development project that combines elements of the Republic of Korea’s experience in rural development called Saemaul Undong with the World Food Programme’s Food Assistance for Assets schemes and the Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Umurenge (VUP). Whereas Food Assistance for Assets and VUP are programmes that provide resources and facilitate targeting poor communities, SMU is an approach. The SMU-inspired process of creating results, fine-tuning the model and developing a clear influencing agenda offers an opportunity to the Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities project, which can seek to strengthen programmes and policies related to community development and local economic development in Rwanda. In this regard, the programme needs to develop a clear agenda.
2.      To develop a better SMU approach, flexibility in implementation is critical: It is a challenge to change the mindset of the community from activity-oriented projects (which they are used to) to a process-oriented project like SMU. From the SZHC I experience, it is evident that communities start expressing their views as they become acquainted with the programme approach and staff. It takes some time for this process. In such a situation, managing fixed annual budgets is challenging. There needs to be flexibility so that partners may judge the readiness of the community and appropriateness of an activity, and then be able to postpone, modify or advance the activities considering the full length of the project period. In this regard, it may be helpful to start community-based planning and implementation with a microproject (prioritized by the community) that can showcase the approach and involve the community.
3.      Facilitation role for partners can provide more opportunities to practice and promote the SMU approach: In order to promote community participation and ownership, the role of NGO partners needs to be considered. Expand their role from that of being deeply involved in activity implementation to a larger role as a partner who helps provide choices, builds skills and capacities to manage project interventions, promotes entrepreneurship, develops linkages with others, and empowers community members to make their own decisions. The role of partners should be focused more on the ‘facilitation’ aspect of the work and less on implementation. Examples of better practices for partners in a facilitation role include the following:
·         When community members decide to opt for pig rearing as an enterprise, the partner agency should facilitate by bringing buyers and sellers face-to-face; this is in contrast to making the selection of pigs as per its own technical standards, or tendering the process of buying pigs for the community. This will provide the community with choices for selection and they can make their own purchase decisions.
·         Instead of developing a chain system of transfer in which each receiver (of pigs) has to supply piglets to two other participants after breeding, introduce a proper credit system in which each participant can access loans, make their own decisions about selection and purchase, and the take complete responsibility for rearing. Such a process will also support local market development. 
4.      Easy access to finance is crucial for sustainability of SMU initiatives: Accessing finance is currently a challenge, and programme development will need to improve the operational capacities of SACCOs in the project area. The use of innovative practices for financial inclusion such as mobile banking and agent banking has potential to take the financial services to the doorstep of the project participants. For example, the BIFSIR (Building an Inclusive Financial Sector in Rwanda) project supported a microfinance institution, the Umutanguha Finance Company Ltd., to develop an innovative biometric system of agent banking (see section 5.9) that helps to create access to finance in the villages. The Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities project area has a poor literacy rate of only 48 percent among heads of household, suggesting that the biometric system coupled with agent banking could be an appropriate solution to problems accessing finance. This would facilitate cash transfer, money withdrawal and deposit, loan repayment, health insurance payment, electricity payment, etc. In addition, the SZHC project can also consider engaging with microfinance institutions as another kind of financial service provider that could bring in new technologies, newer financial products and better liquidity support for more loans. Thus, providing participants with more choices as well as a variety of financial services can facilitate promotion of the SMU approach and, at the same time, help sustain programme interventions.
5.      Incorporate indicators reflecting the SMU approach: Specific indicators are needed to measure the effectiveness of the SMU approach. Examples of indicators that could be used to understand the progress of community regarding SMU principles might include the following: project contribution vis-à-vis community contribution, generation of newer demands, number and amount of loans taken by the community, number of communities developing their own and individual performance plans, and use of Umuganda as a self-initiative to complete community work. The incorporation of such indicators will strengthen evidence-based advocacy on the SMU approach and share the learning.
6.      Develop basic minimum standards (guidelines) for programme implementation with the SMU approach (to facilitate change in the community’s mindset): An agency’s approach to implementation orients the community’s mindset. There may be different approaches of different projects by different agencies in the same sector. Often, the tendency of people is to compare the projects and believe in short term gains, which is a challenge when attempting to introduce the SMU approach.  In order to overcome such challenges and facilitate self-reliance of communities in the programme, it may be useful to develop basic minimum standards for implementation of programmes with the SMU approach. This is appropriate for SZHC II because its three partners will be implementing the project in three different districts. The SMU experience can be shared at the national level to contribute to and influence MINALOC policy on community development and local economic development. One reference for creating such standards is the set of minimum standards in core areas of humanitarian assistance developed by the Sphere Project.
7.      Create a ‘Saemaul Club’ for learning and sharing within SZHC and among projects practicing the SMU approach: Of the three partners implementing SZHC II, Good Neighbors has previous experience as it implemented the first phase of the programme with the SMU approach. It is necessary to create common understanding among all partners before beginning the programme, for example, through sharing of learning from SZHC I and visiting the Saemaul Volunteer Programme (SVP) in Kamonyi and visiting Nyamagabe where  SZHC I was implemented. This knowledge of the programme can be built further by creating a Saemaul Club at programme level in which selected members from the community and sector or district offices participate, in addition to WFP and the coordinating partners. It should be aimed at sharing of practices and thinking up new ways for developing self-reliant communities using the programme as an opportunity. The process will also strengthen the capacity of the project team. Also, UNDP, WFP and KOICA could consider developing a learning group linked with KOICA-supported projects and/or at national level with the involvement of MINALOC. This would facilitate the spread of the SMU approach in the country.
8.      Facilitate natural development of community organizations: The project plans to develop the VDC and sub-committees as part of its exit strategy. The VDC has been entrusted with many responsibilities including managing the maintenance fund, review of loan applications, infrastructure development, etc. It takes time to strengthen the VDC, and matching the process with programme activities is always a difficult task. Two suggestions emerged from discussions about how to strengthen community structures and reduce risk of fund management centrally: (a) Emphasize the formation of solidarity groups (e.g. self-help groups or common interest group) and strengthen them to manage some of the resources. This will reduce accumulation of large fund at centrally in structure like VDC; and (b) Try not to rush to form new structures but understand existing structures and explore the possibility of strengthening existing structures (e.g. strengthening existing self-help groups, agricultural groups formed by the Rwanda Agricultural Board.) To build the community structure from below, the role of VDC can be reviewed and regarded more as a guide, facilitator and connector with the government and others rather than simply as a management group.


[1] Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities Phase I Outcomes, Final Report (March 2016)

[2] Saemaul Zero Hunger communities Phase I Outcomes, Final Report (March 2016)

[3] ‘Handover of Assets created by SZHC Project (2012-2015)’, The document of SZHC Phase I project from WFP to Nyamagabe District, 2016.

[4] Purchase for Poor (P4P) is WFP’s programme that connects smallholder farmers with markets giving them opportunity to grow their business and improve their lives and associated communities.


Resource Document: 


Please login using your credentials recived by email when you register.

I forgot my password | Resend activation e-mail