A little money can go a long way

Lake Muhazi

Did you know that buying 2 goats can lead to 4 baby goats which in turn equals a bicycle and 4 other baby goats which can then be converted to a local cow which can then lead to a calf or two which will then lead to three local cows which in turn can be converted to a good milk cow (Frisian) from which you can get a lot of milk. A little money can go a very long way here in Africa and this just is one of the added values of Forest Landscape Restoration in Rwanda.

We are in the middle of a small business enterprise monitoring study in project areas around Lake Muhazi here in Rwanda. Forest and Landscape Restoration activities were implemented around some of the communities bordering the lake in last year’s planting season (Around November and December). Back in August last year, a small scale nursery was built in the community to produce the trees that were to be planted a few months later. Members of the community were employed to look after their own seedlings and received training on tree nurseries (germination principles, seedling care and such). When planting season came, these same individuals were employed to plant the trees throughout their community and it is through these activities that they earned a little bit of money.

Donatha and some members of the community

Together with Donatha, our extension officer in the Gatsibo District, I went back to these communities to find out what has been done with the money and I was very impressed with what people can do with a little bit of money. My first, and very obvious, question to the farmers we interviewed was what they think of Forest and Landscape Restoration and why they would think it is important to the community. Most of the farmers I talked to had a very good understanding of the functioning of trees (as dust filters, oxygen producers, etc). Next to that, they all agreed that the trees were very important to create sticks that they use to support their crops such as beans. Last but not least, the trees are a very important added food source for their cattle. As there is a zero grazing policy in Rwanda (meaning that cattle is not allowed to roam around freely to search for food), most animals are fed fodder within the homestead of the people. Other than the direct effects of FLR on the community, I mainly wanted to find out what the community had done with the little money they earned through FLR activities and the examples were seemingly endless. Let me just highlight a couple of the stories that I heard during this field trip:

Jean, a 26 year old farmer from Gasange sector in Kigabiro cell worked in the nursery and in the tree planting that followed. Jean bought two pregnant goats through the money he earned and after the goats both gave birth to twin (Jean got lucky), he exchanged two goats for a bicycle and is saving the other goats for own use and to produce more goats. He already had a local cow with a calf but he intends to use the next batch of young goats to get another cow so he will hopefully be able to exchange three local cows with a Frisian cow that produces more milk. Jeans uses the bicycle he obtained to transport his products to the market 8 kilometers away and to get water. Next to that, he also transports people and products for other people through which he earns money. He now saves 2000 Francs (about 2.5 USD) a week through the community saving system for which he gets a small interest as other people can borrow from the community can borrow money through  this system. Two years from now, Jean will have 4 milk producing cows and 2 hectares of land to grow crops.

Claude decided to invest his money into a shoe business together with his friend. They bought some material and glue and are producing sandals made out of car tires and let over rubber and plastic at the moment. As nobody in the community produces shoes, they went to the nearest town to learn how to make gentlemen’s shoes made from real leather which they will start producing as soon as they earn enough money with their business to buy the required machines to be able to stitch the leather. Besides the machines, they are also waiting for the government to bring electricity to the community which is needed to use the machines. Electricity should be there by August this year so they were looking forward to start their shoe making business.

Claude, his partner and their shoe business

Janvier and Claudine actually told me that they did not invest the money they earned into a business, so they though that I probably wasn’t very interested in their story. Although we were there to identify business cases, I was very interested in hearing their story. With the money obtained through FLR activities, they obtained a ‘pay-as-you-go’ solar panel from Mobisol through which they can charge their radio, cellphones and use five LED lights in the evening. After some more questioning form my side it turned out that one of the reasons why they invested in lights was for their children to be able to make their homework in the evening. Next to that, they were also able to pay their children’s school fees through the money that was earned through FLR activities. And even though this is not a business, we all agreed that investing in the future of you children is probably the best investment anyone can ever make.

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