One of the biggest challenges in Nyagatare district is that they have been so successful in farming that they have a huge surplus to deal with.
That is what the mayor of Nyagatare reported to the meeting President Paul Kagame had with citizens in the district last Wednesday. Well, not exactly in those words, but that was the general drift.
Did he genuinely see the surplus as a serious challenge? Or was it a case of modesty by which the mayor wanted to draw attention to the achievements of his district in a subtle way? No matter. The surplus is good and the president said so.
President Paul Kagame told the mayor (who must have been pinching himself as we would say in Kinyarwanda) and all present that a problem of a surplus was a good one and easy to manage, and so should not be a source of worry.
The president said that a surplus can be managed in three ways, all of which are banaficial, singly or in combination. But he left no doubt that the most benefit lay in a combination of the different means.
The first solution is for people to consume their own surplus, the president said. Problem is they have already done this and there is no room for more. Still, the advice is useful as it satisfies the nutritional needs of the people in terms of both quantity and qaulity.
Looking at the people who turned up for the meeting, it was clear that they had already heeded the advice and they said so. Malnutrition is a thing of the past, was the loud chorus.
The president’s answer went beyond informing the mayor and the citizens of Nyagatare about what to do with the surplus of their production. What he said was captured very well in a song by residents of Gatsibo district the next day in which they listed the achievements and successes of the policies of their district and of the national government.
Success was responsible for the song and the surplus, and the singers invited all Rwandans to sing along, dance to the tune and contribute to its continuous composition.
Indeed before the beautiful tune of success, the mayor had already sang it, and in good voice, too. Hunger and famine have been banished, trade and social self-help projects were flourishing he crooned to rapturous applause
The mayor’s (really, the people’s) song played on.
The surplus was the people’s response to policies that enabled increased production, such as zoning the land for agricultural purposes (land consolidation), planting of improved and selected seeds, improvement in livestock breeds and management and mechanisation.. The result was that milk production as well as that of maize and beans increased several fold.
That was the same song in Gatsibo, where, in the short space of twelve months, rice production rose from just over 1000 tonnes to more than 2500 tonnes.
That is the source of the problem of surplus. Which is a nice problem. The second solution the president told the people is to stock up the surplus. Now, this is not a new thing as he was quick to point out. It is a practice that has been around for as long as Rwandans have existed.
To the tune of success, the president was adding another one – that of tradition. Rwandans do not have to look very far for answers to most of the challenges they face. Answers are present in their history and traditions, in this case in stocking up (guhunika).
This is not the first instance where falling back on tradition has provided a solution to a problem that was thought to be impossible. Gacaca is the best case study of success built on tradition.
The idea of stocking up (guhunika) surplus production for use in times of scarcity has obviously answered the question of famine.
The president’s third proposal was to market the surplus. From the proceeds of the sale, people are then able to send their children to school, ensure medical care for their famolies and general improved welfare.
They can acquire the things they do not produce that improve the quality of life. For instance, they can buy a pick-up truck for business or a saloon car for leisure – yes, leisure. And why not? Everyone deserves to enjoy themselves after a hard day’s work And market their produce they do.
The citizens of eastern province must have anticipated the president’s advice. They are organised in farming cooperatives and sell their produce through the same cooperatives, the two mayors reported.
The people sang the benefits of cooperatives. They clapped and danced to the tune of the beginnings of prosperity. And who could begrudge them the joy and pride in the fruits of their labour?
Only ten years ago, the people of the districts of Gatsibo and Nyagatare, and indeed other areas of Rwanda, were recipients of food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP).
Today they sell beans and maize to WFP to be given as relief food aid to other parts of the world where it is needed – because there is famine caused by drought, war or other man-made reasons.
The transformation from a stste of dependency on food aid to one of self-suffiency and even export in the space of less than ten years is surely good reason to break into song and dance to celebrate the achievement.
And is it surprising then that the refrain to all this was: where is the problem when the right strategies create a solvable problem?