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 resulting in lower agricultural productivity and food security. Things were quite bleak for the people and the environment.
However, since 2010, Rubaya, this rural village 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 (PEI) supported the adoption of a range of environmentally sustainable approaches and technologies making Rubaya the country’s first ‘Green Village’.
Terracing and tree planting has 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 ‘Green Village’ initiative has improved the lives and livelihoods of community residents, particularly women. 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”. Ms. Solange recalls that previously “the poor people were the poorest among the poor but if you see them now, they look better off. Living conditions are better. Now we have biogas, a school, a health centre and water. We have solved all of these problems”.
A cost-benefit analysis of the project (2017) has proven that the green village project is very cost-effective. The village cost about US$636,000 to construct and costs about US$22,000 per year to run. Using conservative figures, the project demonstrates an internal rate of return of 5.8 percent, 7.7 percent and 8.9 percent over 15, 20 and 30 years, respectively.
The study also estimated the benefits of investing in an additional 30 villages of 100 households each – a total of 3,000 beneficiaries, which would cost about US$48 million. It is estimated this would generate net benefits of about US$21million at a 6 percent discount rate 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).
Excited by what Rubaya’s green village has demonstrated, the Environment Authority has worked with the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and other government partners to promote the replication of green villages and green practices. Since 2016, all 30 district development plans in Rwanda have included the setting up of at least one green village. As of 31 December 2016, there were seven green villages countrywide. Indicators and a monitoring and evaluation framework to track implementation and impact have been put in place and the level of progress on implementation will form a part of the district mayors’ performance contracts.