Women in Gatsibo District have turned to silkworm farming to transform their livelihoods. The women trained in various sericulture activities, including mulberry farming, silkworm rearing, and weaving to ensure production of high quality silk products.
Sericulture or silk farming is the rearing of silkworms for silk production.
According to the farmers, over 100 women groups are now engaged in the lucrative activity.
Angelina Kazayire, one of the farmers, said the quick success of silk farming in the area compelled women to abandon other types of farming practices.
Kazayire said the activity is ideal for women as it involves weaving, which is practiced by many Rwandan women.
She said the women who invested in Mulberry farming earned quite a lot through weaving the silk thread.
"From a trial and error investment, we have now commercialised the activity. Women are willing to practice silk farming because it is less tedious, yet profitable. At least every Rwandan rural woman has an idea about weaving," Kazayire said.
She said the project could become a major source of income in the area with more investments.
"We want the project to expand and incorporate as many people as possible. It all started as a joke, but we can now envisage a bright future. We buy 400kg at Rwf1.5m and sell each kilogramme at Rwf80,000 after a short period of time," Kazayire said.
The district, through the Ministry for Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (Minagri), helps farmers buy mulberry plants, the only plant that silk worms feed on, at low prices.
Martin Ndahimana, another farmer, said when the new economic activity was introduced about a year ago, residents received it with uncertainty, but because of the economic benefits, more residents have since embraced it.
She said farmers get higher returns from the worms than what they used to get from maize and beans.
"At first, telling farmers to keep caterpillars not only scared them but also sounded outrageous. In fact, the majority shied away. But today, more are joining us in this activity," she notes.
The China-Rwanda Agriculture Technology Demonstration Centre (C-RATDC), and the Rab Sericulture Program trained a number of farmers in Sericulture, a practice that involved rearing of silkworms to produce raw silk.
Gatsibo District agriculture officer Jean Butera said the trainees received both theoretical and practical training.
"Farmers were exposed to the history of sericulture, technical skills in silkworm rearing, mulberry taxonomy, agronomy and plantation agriculture," he said.
He said the government plans to set aside 10, 000 hectares of land for Mulberry plant farming.
"Rwanda intends to encourage mulberry plant farming on a large scale, something expected to encourage investors to set up factories that make silk," Butera said.
One hectare of mulberry can fetch between Rwf3.5 and Rwf7 million per hectare annually, according to Butera.
On the contrary, maize or beans can fetch just between Rwf1.5 and Rwf2 million per hectare annually, he adds.
Given that rearing of silkworms requires a barn, the government pledged to build them structures and provide seeds for all farmers growing Mulberry plants.
Speaking about the benefits of the new project, the district mayor, Ambrose Ruboneza, said sericulture was one of the most labour intensive sub-sectors, adding that the worms require maximum care and attention.
"Having such an activity done in the villages means availing employment opportunities to rural citizens and thus helping alleviate poverty," he said.
The mayor further noted that farmers would be linked to potential buyers around the world.
The local leaders' interaction with the farmers is making the difference in endearing silk farming to the farmers.
"It is a good business that we intend to promote across the country. We have all the support from the line ministry and it is also good that farmers have had their mindset changed," Ruboneza said
According to the Agriculture ministry, there is hope that mulberry growing will help lift Rwanda into a world class silk production nation.