Supporting youth economic empowerment through environment-related businesses

January 25, 2021

The Resident Representative of UNDP in Rwanda, Mr. Maxwell Gomera(right), handing over a check to the best performing cooperative.

On Friday, December 4th, 2020, the Ministry of Youth and Culture in partnership with UNDP, KOICA and other partners provided seed capital to 20 youth cooperatives working under the Ecobrigade program implemented in 10 sectors in the districts of Muhanga, Karongi and Ngororero districts. Each youth cooperative received five million Rwanda francs to boost their businesses.

The program aims at improving the livelihoods of youth in rural areas who are often among the most vulnerable population, and who have very limited opportunities. It has done so, not just through the provision of jobs but through capacity building and training on financial literacy, savings and cooperative management.

Over 3500 young people involved in this project were grouped into 55 youth cooperatives to promote the saving culture and it has encouraged to start their own businesses in order to become more resilient and ensure long term livelihoods. Currently, through formed cooperatives, the youth benefiting from the Ecobrigade program have managed to save almost 11,000,000 Rwf.

In terms of training and job creation, the has provided over 4,900 young people from rural communities with trainings and created more than 3,520 jobs. Through the project, these youths have been able to generate savings. Many of them have now started their own businesses and are becoming more economically independent.

About the program

In 2019, UNDP partnered with the Ministry of Youth and Culture, together with the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Defense through the Reserve Force, Ministry of Local Government through the Local Administrative Entities Development Agency (LODA), with support from KOICA to implement the Youth Ecobrigade program which is aimed at promoting environmental protection while creating green jobs for the youth.

This two-pronged approach falls in line with Rwanda’s commitment to developing a Green Economy and building resilience to climate change as outlined in its National Strategy for Transformation and Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy. The initiative also fits perfectly within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and is a great example of economic, social and ecological sustainability.

The 5-year initiative (2019-2024) was designed with four interventions, including building radical terraces on 512 ha and progressive terraces on 400 ha, creating a buffer zone protection by planting 332 ha of bamboo on the banks of river Nyabarongo and training youth in financial literacy, saving and environmental protection.

The project is being implemented in 10 sectors of 3 districts, namely Muhanga district in South, Karongi and Ngororero districts in West of Rwanda. The landscape of these districts is predominantly made of rolling hills, which makes them prone to soil erosion and landslides.

The pilot project under this initiative, which is the “River Nyabarongo Ecosystem Rehabilitation,” has increased resilience of local communities to climate change through the construction of radical and progressive terraces and provision of buffer zone protection for this major Rwandan river. These measures tackle soil erosion, land degradation and protect the thousands of hectares of neighboring agricultural lands from floods, thus contributing to environmental protection, climate change mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction.

Sèraphine Uwahamahoro, a local resident of Ngororero district said “before the terraces, this area sloped so steeply that our crops were easily prone to soil erosion. The erosion swept away crops and we could not get any harvest. Now, that has changed due to the terraces which have ditches that carry away rainwater, our agricultural productivity has significantly improved.”

On top of building terraces, local farmers were provided with organic fertilizers and lime to reduce the acidity of the soil, which Uwamahoro believes will help to boost harvest.

The project also seeks to improve the livelihoods of youth in rural areas who are often among the most vulnerable population, and who have very limited opportunities. It has done so, not just through the provision of jobs but through capacity building and training on financial literacy, savings and cooperative management.

Through this project qualified volunteers, called “Ecobrigade volunteers” were hired to provide coaching and mentorship to the youth as a way to strengthen their capacity. These volunteers are also in charge of monitoring the activities of the youth.

In its first year of implementation (2019-2020), 209 ha of radical terraces and 162 ha of progressive terraces were constructed and 116 ha of bamboo were planted on Nyabarongo river banks.

A youth cooperative member Jeannette Niyonsaba stated that as a single mother the project has been life changing for her. “I was able to buy five chickens with my first salary and saved my other salaries from the

following months. I used the savings, together with money I got from selling my chickens to buy a cow. This is helping in supporting my family,” said Niyonsaba.

Mitsindo Jean Damasce was able to start a chicken farming business and expand his hair saloon, which he says was about to go bankrupt. “I am very confident that Ecobrigade is helping me to build a better future. I am certain that at the end of the project I will have built a strong foundation for my life, Mitsindo stated.

The Minister of Youth and Culture, Rosemary Mbabazi recognizes that the outcomes of this programme are very impressive. “It has put youth who were redundant together and they now have environment at heart, which is our primary goal since environment conservation is a global need. In addition, they are saving for their future, which is a culture that has saved people in times of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic we are going through. So, it is a big achievement,” Hon. Mbabazi appreciates.

Ecobrigade is expected to continue to put more emphasis on entrepreneurship component by providing trainings on developing businesses and providing seed funding to youth cooperatives with promising environment-related businesses. This will ensure sustainability of livelihoods, generate more green jobs as well as long-term income.

The programme will also target the expansion of its portfolio by initiating more youth-led environment projects. The second year’s target is to expand to 3 additional sectors in each of the 3 districts, to construct 209 ha of radical terraces, 162 ha progressive terraces as well as plant 117 ha of bamboo to establish buffer zone protection along Nyabarongo riverbanks.