NEW SERIES: Following a farm family in sub-Saharan Africa

One of the keys to achieving food security in Africa is ensuring that its millions of smallholder farmers are able to produce enough food for their families plus a surplus to sell in local markets. To get a better idea of the challenge facing a typical African farm family, we’ve identified one through Farm Radio International, a Canadian organization that delivers information to farmers through 320 radio station partners in sub-Saharan Africa. We’re going to keep track of her farm activities with regular updates over the next few months.

The articles will be written by Jean Paul Ntezimana, who works with Radio Salus, a station which reaches 90 per cent of Rwanda. Currently, he co-ordinates a radio program for farmers about land conflicts with Search for Common Ground in Rwanda, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to help communities deal with conflicts in a constructive way. If you have questions or comments for our African farm family, you can provide them in the comments section at the end of this article.

Many crops and many seasons in Rwanda

Justine Uwingabire has a housemaid who looks after her cows, but she can’t help checking on them herself. “I have to have a look at them time after time,” says Justine, who farms in the Kiramuruzi sector of the Gatsibo district in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.

“I like farming,” she says. “When it is agriculture season, I wake up and have a quick look at my cows and go to my land.”

Justine, 35, lives with her sons Ruzindana Selman, 16, and Niyotwagira Prince, 5. Like many African women, she’s in charge of the farm — her husband Niyonzima Evariste works far away in another district. 

Justine grows banana, potatoes, beans, cassava and maize (corn). Farmers in her area of Rwanda can grow three crops per year: September to mid-January, mid January to May-June, and then June-July to September, which is the dry season and crops can be planted in marshland which is too wet in the rainy season.

Unlike other crops, bananas can be harvested year-round, though production is lower in some seasons.

The last season was not good for farmers in general in Rwanda and in particular in the Eastern Province, which is much more affected by drought because it is lower in elevation and sunnier than other regions.

“I have harvested around 350 kg of beans instead of 1,000 kg I used to harvest. We had not enough rain this season,” says Justine.

Though the current season began dry, recent rains have helped her crops. As part of annual rotation, this season Justine is growing sorghum and potatoes. “They are doing very well because till now rain is coming in a good quantity,” she says.

Justine grows selected seeds because she is a member of Imbaraga Farmers Union, the most important farmers’ union in Rwanda.

Because of this, neighbours come to her to buy seed for next season. 

The remainder of her crop is divided into two parts. The first will feed the family and the rest will be sold locally after some months. “I wait until the price goes high”, she says. On this crop 1/3 is used by the family and the 2/3 is sold locally.

Justine’s two cows are milked mornings and evenings. They give 12 litres of milk a day. Because she lives with her housemaid and her two sons are at school, Justine takes only two litres for drinking and sells 10 at 200 francs per litre. This means that she earns 2,000 francs a day, which equals almost C$4.

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