Journey of the heart: the impact of seedlings for years to come

Journey of the heart: the impact of seedlings for years to come

Elikanah photo Part 2-2.jpg03 mars | 2022

In part two of this blog, Elikanah Ng'ang'a, Oikocredit’s Social Performance and Capacity Building Officer for Eastern Africa, reflects on the transformation of Rwanda and the Rwanda Tea Seedlings Project.

Written by Elikanah Ng'ang'a. Read the first part of the blog here >

It was time to leave the farmers and head back to the capital, Kigali, for another Covid test so I could fly back home to Nairobi. But before that, the cooperative had kindly organised a lunch for us, the farmers and Jean-Marie, our Rwandese consultant who has been working with the farmers for over the past two years. Sitting down for lunch, we were able to remove our facemasks and I could see the smiles and joy radiating from the farmers. Part of their joy came from the assurance of a market  for their tea. I also remembered that our partner, the Karongi Tea Factory, had recently signed a contract to supply tea to Germany – one of the many fruits of our project.

If you have ever been at a meal table with a group of Africans, you will know there are many stories shared and lots of laughter. Observing the laughter at this table, I could not help but think that over two decades ago, this could not have been possible. This area wasn’t always green and lush with tea plantations. Twenty seven years ago this room was mostly full of mourners and people in pain, but now it’s filled by the laughter of people full of hope. It brings me great sadness to think of those dark years of genocide and what this country went through. But I also get an immense amount of joy when I see how much has changed in this country and when I hear incredible stories that reveal transformation and hope.

Smallholder tea farmer Agnès Mukamunam plucking tea in her tea field.

On the four-hour journey to Kigali across this ‘country of a thousand hills’, we passed what to me is one of the saddest genocide memorials. This memorial is especially distressing because the killings at the site happened in 1997, three years after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The site marks a massacre of high school students. The killers had visited the high school to kill one ethic community. But when they ordered the students to separate so that they could identify who belonged to this ethnic community, the courageous students refused to separate saying they were all Rwandese. The frustrated killers decided to slaughter all the students.

As we passed this memorial, I could not help but think of the bravery of these students. Their courage and solidarity remains a symbol and promise to the people of Rwanda, that they will never be separated again based on tribe. Without separation and hatred within Rwandese communities, the oppressors could not win. I asked myself: could the world learn from and be inspired by this? Could the world unite against poverty and inequality? Could we unite against climate change and save generations to come?

Then it dawned on me. The world is like the people that I have been with on this journey. There are the farmers who told me how they are planting more trees as a result of the training they received. There is the Oikocredit consultant that has created awareness and trained farmers not only to make tea farming profitable, but also to do it in a sustainable way. Then there is Oikocredit and like-minded organisations that are impact driven, with investors contributing their money both for investment and capacity building. This is the world I was thinking about and if we play our part, others will play their part too. We can’t just wait until the world changes for us. Like this group of high school students who took courage to change the future, we can all take courage and make change for generations to come.

After a negative Covid test in Kigali, I was OK to board a flight back to Nairobi. As we landed in Nairobi, I felt very satisfied with the work we had done alongside:

  • Oikocredit’s West German support association, which raised most of the funds
  • Our Social Performance Innovation unit that planned the project
  • Consultants that ensured the farmers were trained
  • Our partner Karongi Tea factory that ensured high-quality tea seedlings were produced
  • Two cooperatives that selected the needy farmers and supported the logistics

So many things had to go right in order for this project to be successful. What now remains is for those seedlings to adapt to their new soil and, for the next 30 or more years, give income to the farmers. We will monitor this over the coming years to see how well the seedlings have adapted.

Road sign to the Karongi Tea factory

The two cooperatives are now equipped with the skills to produce seedlings year in and year out. They will be an important link for generations of new tea farmers in Rwanda. It is estimated that for the next five years, 1.5 million seedlings will be needed each year by each cooperative, which will help future tea farmers to get started and current ones to expand. As my journey of the heart ends, I pull open the gate to my home; I know just like my father, that my journey was motivated by love. Love for my work and for the opportunity to support projects like this that will make a positive impact for many years to come.

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