Africa / Agriculture / Dairying / East Africa / Food Security / Nutrition / Rwanda

Rwandan agriculture growing–one cow at a time

Crossbred dairy cow in Rwanda

An improved, crossbred, dairy cow made available in Rwanda by an East African Dairy Development project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Heifer International; the International Livestock Research Institute is a partner in this project (picture credit: ILRI/EADD).

Uganda’s Independent recently carried an opinion piece extolling the good progress of Rwanda’s agriculture written by Rwanda’s Minister for Agriculture, Agnes Kalibata. The dairy cow, says the minister, has played a central role in improving Rwanda’s household nutrition as well as agricultural productivity.

‘. . . One of the most compelling stories has been that of the process of agricultural transformation. Agriculture is an unmovable cornerstone of Rwandan society. Eighty percent of the people depend on the land for their livelihoods. . . . The land scarcity and the fact that Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa, culminate in farming being conducted by smallholders who own, on average, 0.5 hectares of farmland. . . .

‘With a high population density and a lack of cultivatable un-occupied land, farmer productivity increases are paramount. With this in mind, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources designed the Crop Intensification Program largely driven by the use of input technologies such as improved seeds and fertilizers, elements that were key factors of success in Asia at the pick of the Green Revolution. . . . Parallel to the Crop Intensification program and equally as important in dealing with poverty, and definitely more powerful in dealing with malnutrition, is the One Cow per Poor Family Program—locally known as the Girinka Program.

‘This program like many other initiatives in Rwanda has deep roots in the Rwanda culture: where malnutrition in kids is a shame to family and society and where sharing a cow (passing on an offspring to other families) builds very strong society bonds. The Girinka Program, started by the President in 2006, has secured a productive asset in the hands of poor farmers and mitigated child malnutrition with milk drinking. The program now targets about 350,000 poor families across the country of whom 92,000 have already received a cow. This program has locally been scored as most successful of all economic uplifting programs at the household level. The externalities are enormous; besides dealing with malnutrition, farmers have income from [the sale] of extra milk and offsprings from the cow, they access manure for their land—a factor that has seen crop and livestock very neatly integrated in Rwanda.

‘The most powerful externality however, is at the society level; a farmer who receives a cow passes on the first female offspring to another needy farmer. This has built a strong sense of community bonding that Rwanda needs very badly. Recently, the IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] President was visiting farmers in Rwanda and one beneficially of a cow from an IFAD supported project proudly showed him his bank book. The President asked him there was anything that IFAD could do to improve his life even more and the farmer said ‘Yes, give a cow to my neighbours who are still waiting their turn.”. . . ‘

Read the whole article in the Independent and Agriculture–the Current Backbone of Economic Growth and Path Towards MDG 1, 27 December 2010.

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