Modernizing agriculture need not leave women behind, Rwanda meeting hears

25 November 2014

​The modernization of agriculture and Rwanda's increasing integration into the world's economy can play a catalytic role in rural development and creating jobs for women, experts said at a meeting organized by UNCTAD and the Rwanda's Ministry of Trade and Industry in Kigali, Rwanda on 12 November.

That the process of modernization and commercialization of agriculture need not leave women behind was one of the key messages emerging from a national workshop on trade, gender and development held in Kigali on 12 November, organized by UNCTAD and the Rwanda's Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The workshop provided the opportunity to launch the UNCTAD study Who is benefiting from trade liberalization in Rwanda? A gender perspective. Among those in attendance were Robert Opirah, Director General of the Trade and Investment Department at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Henriette Umulisa, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, along with senior staff from these and other Rwandan ministries.

The workshops emphasized that Rwanda has made great strides in promoting equality between women and men and is a leading example of the successful integration of gender considerations in all the government's programmes, laws and in its development framework.

In 2008, Rwanda became the first country in history to have more women members than men in its parliament. In addition, Rwanda has made impressive progress in educational attainment for girls and in maternal mortality. However, there remains more work to be done - particularly in the areas of women's economic empowerment.

A high number of women are employed in the Rwandan coffee and tea sectors, which are some of the country's largest exports. Rwanda is repositioning itself from bulk to high-quality specialty products and this reorientation has imparted new dynamism to the tea and coffee sectors, raising incomes and creating new jobs.

The meeting discussed the gender ramifications of these developments. The shift towards premium quality and specialty markets may crowd out marginal and vulnerable rural smallholders, many of whom are women. On the other hand, it could provide significant openings for women if the right infrastructure and support are provided.

In parallel with the reorientation in the coffee and tea sectors, staple food production is also currently being "modernized" in Rwanda. The meeting heard that in this case as well there are challenges, but also opportunities for women. For smallholder agriculture to be commercially viable, the right incentives in terms of support infrastructure and services should be set up, but also gender-specific obstacles should be tacked in order to improve women's access to productive resources, technology and credit.

Other issues addressed at the workshop were female entrepreneurship and the role of women as cross border traders. Government representatives shared with the audience a number of successful initiatives taken in these fields.

The meeting also offered the opportunity to compare the development path chosen by Rwanda with that of other least developed countries. It was noted that no country has successfully developed without undergoing structural transformation and that industrial development - especially in manufacturing - is a critical component of structural transformation, thanks to value-adding and productivity-driven activities.

The study Who is benefiting from trade liberalization in Rwanda? A gender perspective, is one in a series of country case studies on trade and gender that are being conducted by UNCTAD.