Like many other children from the village, 15-year-old Sandrine, would regularly accompany her mother to collect fire wood and water for the household, an activity traditionally undertaken by women and children. Walking long distances down the steep slopes for up to three hours at a time carrying wood or containers for collecting water meant that that little time was left in the day for anything else. Due to this arduous undertaking, Sandrine’s mother laments, many children in the village could no longer attend school. Over-cultivation of land, inadequate soil conservation and deforestation from firewood collection caused fertile soil to be washed away during heavy rains contributing to lower agricultural productivity and food insecurity.
Things were quite bleak for the people and the environment.
However, the rural village of Rubaya, nestled among the hills of northern Rwanda, has been quietly leading a sustainable development revolution. In partnership with the Rwanda’s Environment Management Authority (REMA), and a range of other ministries, including Local Government, Infrastructure and Agriculture and under the leadership of the local women’s-led cooperative, the Poverty-Environment Initiative (2005-2018) supported the adoption of a range of environmentally sustainable approaches and technologies making Rubaya the country’s first ‘Green Village’.
A cost-benefit analysis of the project, Assessment of the Economic, Social and Environment Benefits of the Rubaya Green Village in Gicumbi District, Rwanda, issued in 2017, has shown that green villages are very cost-effective means of reducing poverty.
Ms. Muhawenimana Solange, the leader of the cooperative, observed that since the beginning of the ‘green village’ project “we are getting more crops, yields have increased, and we live in better houses. Now we have biogas, a school, a health centre and water.”
Terracing and tree planting have reduced soil erosion and deforestation which improved agricultural productivity, plus reduced flooding, siltation and water pollution from fertilizer run-off. The new biogas plants have provided Rubaya with a clean source of energy, reducing smoke related health problems from open fires and dependency on firewood, thereby reducing rates of deforestation. Rainwater harvested and stored in reservoirs and underground tanks is used for crop irrigation and household consumption. With these resources now available close at hand, women and children now have more time to engage in other productive activities.
The study also estimated the benefits of investing in an additional 30 villages of 100 households each – a total of 3,000 beneficiaries would generate net benefits of about US$21 million over 30 years, generate further indirect economic benefits equivalent to 0.8 percent of GDP and lead to a 0.71 percent decrease in the extreme poverty rate of 16.3 percent (in 2015).
Poverty-Environment Action (2018-2022), the UNDP–UNEP successor project to Poverty-Environment Initiative, continues to support the mainstreaming of poverty-environment objectives in the country’s district development plans. Today all district development plans in Rwanda include the objective to establish at least one green village, such as Rubaya, with over 40 green villages established to date. Rwanda's experience can serve as a model of how green policies can bring about radical change on the ground.
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The series Stories of Change 2021 was prepared by UNDP–UNEP Poverty-Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals through the generous financial support of the Governments of Austria, Norway, Sweden and the European Union.