Rwanda is one of the countries participating in the project funded by the GEF SGP and implemented by the UNDP and the Mountain Partnership, where Slow Food provides technical assistance and support.
An overview of Rwanda
This landlocked country is located a few degrees south of the Equator, with elevated lands, and a diversity of lakes, humid forests, rivers, and wetlands.
It is also known -as you can guess from the title- as the Land of the thousand hills, due to the fact that the entire country is in highlands.
It is in these mountains where the main economic activity takes place, with 70% of the population engaging in the sector of agriculture, which accounts for 33% of the national GDP.
You probably have drank some of their coffee, since along with tea, it’s one of their major exports, while the most productive crops are plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, and beans (FAO).
Even though the country has been working at a remarkable pace to recover from its past, poverty lingers among the population, giving space to challenges such as land degradation, vulnerability to climate shocks, inefficient farming practices, and lack of appropriate technologies, and expertise, etc. It is due to their potential and will to overcome these adversities that the project with mountain communities gains significance.
The climate crisis has exacerbated the already hard living conditions of mountain dwellers and increased not only the propensity of natural disasters but also desertification, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss, all of them already being experienced by Rwanda’s producers.
In the name of preserving mountains and supporting the people who make a living in these areas, their cultures, and ways of life, the calling is to find sustainable opportunities, investments, and technical support to boost their production systems, competitiveness, and value chains.
Enhancing agri-food value chains to increase the resilience of mountain communities
Four cooperatives from the mountains were selected to participate in technical capacity development activities by Slow Food. They are Imbaka, Turere Abana Bacu, Buyumba Beekeepers Cooperative, and Terimbere Kabirizi cooperative.
They produce honey and other bee outputs, African Basil, herbal tea, and mushrooms, which were also showcased during an exhibition fair created to promote their work.
- Read about this project in the mountains of Guatemala,
The activities took place in the fields, farms, processing facilities, and laboratories, where producers experienced practical training.
The program followed the principles of the Slow Food philosophy, as three essential points became a clear focus:
1) The improvement of the value chain. They covered every aspect: soil fertility, pest and disease treatments, harvesting and post-harvesting practices, agroecological farming, preservation of agrobiodiversity, general management, and promotion of sustainable food systems.
2) The social facet: livelihood development for mountain communities using locally available products.
3) Proper raw material management and transformation practices, training on the Narrative Label, product tasting and sensory analysis, and discussions about the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), among other topics.
More about the Participatory Guarantee System:
In their own words:
‘The training session on African Basil processing has opened my view on trying out alternative methods. I have learned to consider the most efficient ways that keep the aroma, flavor, and all the health benefits of the herb’ say Irakoze Angel Bernisse a Food processing student at IPRC College, Musanze
“I have learned that to widen the market for our honey, we will need to improve the quality of our product, and equally important, our label should tell our story and depict our ecosystem. All the good practices we do every day should be documented and shared. I have had a chance to understand the value of a descriptive label that not only speaks about our product but also for our community” Says Vestine Mukamurenzi, a member of Imbaraga Karambo Cooperative from Gakenke District, Northern Province.
Imparting knowledge backed on sustainability is one of the achievements of the sessions, and the fundamental key to obtaining Good, Clean and Fair value chains that support the ecosystem and help the communities thrive.