A Mother’s Strength: A Day in the Life of a Rwandan Smallholder Farmer

By Karis McGill and Jennifer Mujuni

Smallholder farmer Nyiransengimana Zawudgia poses outside her home in Rwanda. Photo: Jennifer Mujuni/USAID-PSDAG Project.

Nyiransengimana Zawudgia, a 41-year-old smallholder farmer in Rwanda’s Kamonyi district, has faced her share of personal challenges in life. Thrown out by her husband at 26 years old, she was left to care for their four children on her own. Later, the father of her second two children began to struggle with alcohol addiction. After determining that the situation was unsafe for her and her family, she was forced to separate from him, becoming a single mother once again — this time to six children.

Zawudgia’s story is not unique among rural, smallholder farmers. Globally, women make up about 43 percent of smallholders, but that number is estimated to be much higher throughout Africa.

Women are often put at an economic disadvantage in the farming world; they are confronted by a “gender gap” in agriculture, referring to the lack of access to tools, technologies, inputs, and capital enjoyed by their male counterparts.

After struggling to make ends meet for several years, Zawudgia improved her circumstances significantly when she joined the Impabaruta Cooperative, a partner involved in the USAID/Rwanda Private Sector-Driven Agricultural Growth (PSDAG) project. But despite her hard work and market connections gained through the cooperative, Zawudgia — and many farmers just like her around the world — continues to struggle every day to ensure a healthy, productive future for herself and her six children.

Zawudgia’s Day

5:30am: Rising to the Day’s Challenges

Zawudgia wakes up, says her morning prayers, gets her children ready for school, and serves her ailing, 82-year-old mother tea heated with charcoal leftover from the previous night. She packs food for her kids — typically a cold, boiled sweet potato. She helps them do chores around the house before they depart for school.

Zawudgia and her mother say morning prayers in their home. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

6:30am: The Morning Toil

At 6:30, Zawudgia picks up her hoe and begins the walk to the fields to start digging and tilling her 500 square meters of land.

Zawudgia surveys her 500 square meters of land on which she grows eggplant for local consumption. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

While she’s gone, her eldest daughter cares for Zawudgia’s young son.

Harvesting aubergines (eggplant), a popular vegetable in Rwandan cuisine, is tedious. “It’s hard work,” she says. “I could manage better with more resources such as additional, hired labor.”

Four hours later, Zawudgia’s day is not yet half over. At around 10:00am, she begins searching for food from her field to use at home for lunch and dinner.

Zawudgia harvests her eggplants, a process that can take four hours per day. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

10:30am: Afternoon Chores

Zawudgia arrives back home to start preparing lunch for her family. After checking on and bathing her mother, she lights their traditional charcoal stove.

Zawudgia holds her youngest child while preparing food on her traditional charcoal stove. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

As the food cooks, she washes the farm soil from her body and puts her digging clothes in a wash basin. All of her water comes from a local well situated far from her house. She fetches water there only twice a day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

At noon, her family, including her children who are home from school, eat lunch together.

Then Zawudgia prays, cleans up the house, prepares food for the night’s dinner, and heads back to her field once again.

Zawudgia makes the trek to and from her field two times a day — once for harvesting and once for watering. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

4:00pm: Second Shift

By about 4:00pm, Zawudgia is back in her field. This time, she’s manually watering her vegetables using low-tech tools such as watering cans.

But she is grateful for the market connections provided by her farmers’ cooperative, which will allow her to sell her vegetables at optimal prices to a stable set of buyers, providing a level of financial security she didn’t have before.

6:30pm: Family Time

By 6:30pm, Zawudgia is home again and beginning her evening routine. She bathes, says prayers, and spends some time with her children. While her daughters help her prepare dinner for the family, Zawudgia washes her children’s school uniforms so that they’ll be ready for the next day.

Zawudgia washes her children’s school uniforms. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

By 8:00pm, all of the children and Zawudgia’s mother have eaten, bathed, and are ready for bed. Zawudgia presses their school uniforms using an iron warmed with charcoal.

9:00pm: The Day’s End

At 9:00pm, Zawudgia heads to bed. Exhausted, she knows she must get some sleep so that tomorrow she can put forth the same amount of effort to ensure her six children’s health, education, and security.

For Zawudgia — and for millions of rural farming families around the world — food is more than a source of daily nutrition for her family. It’s also her livelihood, and she depends upon it, as well as a thriving local market, for her own economic growth.

On World Food Day and every day, we honor those around the world working to empower women like Zawudgia through sustainable, inclusive agriculture-led economic growth. Their success means prosperity not only for their own families, but for us all.

Zawudgia enjoys family time with her youngest child after a day in her field. Photo: Will Boase/RTI International.

For more information on RTI’s work in global food security and agriculture, please visit https://www.rti.org/practice-area/food-security-and-agriculture.

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