Follow the leader

A network of lead farmers in Rwanda are sharing their skills and helping others improve their crops in the process

Clementine Ukwitegetse, a mother of six, is proud to lead the way in showing her colleagues how to get better crops. Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

“My daily work is to visit the plots of my friends, advise them, and report complicated issues to the skilled agronomist,” says Clementine, a 37-year-old mother of six.

Across Rwanda, a network of 600 ‘lead farmers’ like Clementine are sharing agricultural skills and better farming practices with over 30,000 smallholder farmers, thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP)’s Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) initiative.

This approach complements the “Twigire Muhinzi’’ government initiative of using “farmer promoters.’’ It encourages farmers to increase the quality and quantity of their crops, giving them enough food to not only feed their families, but a surplus they can sell and generate income.

The concept of lead farmers

Lead farmers are nominated by their peers from smallholder organizations in rural areas. After undergoing training, they serve as community focal points, sharing information about agriculture with other farmers. Lead farmers receive RWF 2,000 (US$ 2.30) to mobilize groups of 25 at the village level.

In close collaboration with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), lead farmers are trained on good agricultural practices, post-harvest handling and storage. They share knowledge and know- how with members of the cooperative and other community members too. The initiative has yielded positive results: surveys conducted three to four months after the training showed that 76 per cent of farmers applied the skills they were taught, and 92 per cent reported to have reduced their post-harvest losses.

The impact of using lead farmers at the community level

Once trained by WFP and local partners, lead farmers take their knowledge and skills to the community. One lead farmer is responsible for training and supervising at least 50 smallholder farmers at the community level.

“Sharing agricultural skills and knowledge through lead farmers serves as a practical and cost-effective model for empowering smallholders,” explains Ammar Kawash, WFP FtMA country coordinator. “Lead farmers are respected members of their cooperatives who are selected by the members themselves, and will remain in their communities after the project ends to ensure that knowledge remains within the community,” he adds.

Dancille Uwamariya standing in her garden of beans. She is expecting to harvest over 30 metric tons. Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

Dancille Uwamariya, a 53-year-old mother of three, is the president of a smallholder farmers’ organization in Gatsibo district in Rugarama.

“Lead farmers are greatly contributing to our community development,” says Dancille. “With the daily supervision by the lead farmers, our members have increased maize production. Last year, we grew four times as much maize as the year before, harvesting 250 metric tons from 80 hectares and this year we expect to harvest another 300 tons of beans.”

Dancille is not alone. Many smallholder farmers assisted by WFP through FtMA report that their yields increased since they joined FtMA. Top performing farmers of the cooperative in Gatsibo district reported a yield increase from two to eight metric tons per hectare on their plots. Yield improvement is essential to ensure enough food for home consumption and selling the surplus to the market.

FtMA aims to transform existing agricultural practices through four strategic pathways, providing smallholder farmers with access to affordable finance, access to quality farming inputs, access to predictable markets and access to effective post-harvest management and other agricultural technologies. FtMA has committed to empower 1.5 million farmers by the year 2022, using this comprehensive value chain approach. FtMA is operating in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.

“I’m a lead farmer and I love my job because I feel happy when I see my friends applying better farming practices that I showed them, and getting a better price for their crops at market. I am happy and willing to contribute to the improvement of my community,’’ says Clementine.

Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) was formed to make crop markets work better for farmers by linking them to local and regional markets. Global members include the AGRA, Bayer, Grow Africa, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Rabobank, Syngenta, WFP and Yara.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Rwanda



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John Paul Sesonga

John Paul Sesonga

John Paul Sesonga; A former journalist, now a Communications associate at UN World Food Programme Rwanda Country Office.