We are on the right track; we just have to stay the course

Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources hosted an international conference on agribusiness, called the Agribusiness
Dr Agnes Kalibata
Dr Agnes Kalibata

Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources hosted an international conference on agribusiness, called the Agribusiness

Forum 2013. This is a personal account of my experience at the forum, of which I would like to highlight a few observations that I believe will make us all proud.

The conference

The Government of Rwanda requires no visa for African countries. This is something many still do not believe is true; but when the realization dawns on them, you can almost feel them - African and non-African alike, tipping their hat in surprised but humbled acknowledgement.

In light of this, I received two interesting telephone calls from the conference organisers; just before it started.

“We have several people travelling in from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Are they also allowed to come without a visa?”

All I said was, the last time I checked, DRC was on the African continent -- so yes, they were allowed to enter Rwanda without a visa.

The second call I got went like this: “We have someone coming in from Ivory Coast, but he is originally Belgian. However, he holds Ivory Coast nationality.” I said if he holds an Ivorian nationality, he needs no visa to come to Rwanda.

And so, the calls went on and the disbelief was palpable but every African who wanted to come did come.

RwandAir exceeded my expectations during the forum. We had an overwhelming number of representatives, from 45 countries on the continent; people from Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, DRC and Togo.

A number of these participants made it to the forum to share ideas and seek opportunities in agriculture development, and were able to because RwandAir is lighting the sky across the continent.  Some of these participants would have had to trek to Europe first before coming to Rwanda.

From the very moment Ministers and delegates of different countries stepped at the airport, the quality of the customer service and care that was delivered by the collaborated efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rwanda Development Board, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources staff was impeccable.

I have been told by previous guests that Rwandan immigration staff are probably the most welcoming in the world - I had an opportunity to see the smart, soft spoken but unmistakably steady fast team at work with lightening efficiency.

Three flights landed within 45 minutes of each other from Nigeria, Gabon and Entebbe.  Not to mention that there was a huge United Nations Security Council delegation that made the whole airport space look even smaller than it is.

At Kigali Serena Hotel, the staff were attentive and swift. Conference management by MINAGRI and RDB staff was efficient and professional.

The entertainment dance troupes that performed at the dinners kept the crowd mesmerized.

To be honest, my only problem was their unnecessary extended stay on a few dance moves - my interpretation of watering down expectations.

But overall, the troupe was marvelous and there was no mistaking that the dances were meant to create a sense of extraordinary entertainment.

I always find myself searching for faults. But this time, I was thwarted by everybody. Our guests were pleased with the quality of the conference.  They were especially impressed with the customer care they received.

This, more than anything, is a subtle demonstration of the effort that Government of Rwanda is putting towards improving customer care.  And it is finally paying off.

The Global Hunger Index

Stepping away from the conference for a moment, the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report has just been released.

On global scale, Rwanda is ranked among the top 10 countries that have had the most improved GHI in the last 23 years.  Rwanda has actually reduced its GHI score by more than 50%.  Only 4 other countries, Angola, Ghana, Malawi, and Egypt, have had similar success on the continent.

This implies that there has been a significant reduction in the proportion of the population that is undernourished, the proportion of children under weight, and the proportion of children dying before 5 years of age. Needless to say, the most progress in this reduction has happened since 2005.

On a regional level, of the 16 countries that make up Eastern Africa, Rwanda comes 3rd after Mauritius and Malawi. And for the first time, Rwanda comes 1st among the five East African Community (EAC) countries, with a score of 15.3, where 40 represents the worst score on that scale.

This is highly consistent with Rwanda’s performance towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - Rwanda has already achieved many of MDG goals, and is on track to achieve the remaining. It is also consistent with the results of the recent Household Survey which shows that poverty in Rwanda has been reduced by 12% points in the last five years alone.

Rwanda’s GHI score this year corroborates the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis and Nutrition Survey 2012 (CFSVA) reports that the Rwandan population on the borderline of food security has dropped to 17% in 2012, in comparison to 70% a decade ago.

Implying that the majority of the population equivalent to 83%,  have secured good access.  The same survey shows that adequate land access is the key constraint to adequate food security for the remaining 17%.

Using the standard GHI scale of 0 to 100, it is almost always developed countries that receive a score of less than 5.

Unfortunately reiterating this point, in 2013, there was not a single country from Sub-Sahara Africa to reach a score of 5 or less.  On a more positive note, South Africa, Gabon and Ghana managed to touch the range between 5 and 10.

For countries that are still on the development path, lowering and maintaining Global Hunger Index scores is continuous and arduous work.

Many countries often slip backwards. But in our case, Rwanda has not only moved forward in the last 20 years, it has dropped a whopping 22 points on the GHI scales.

Given this and a slew of other successes, there is no doubt that we are on the path to providing better quality of life for all Rwandans.

As someone has told me before, we are on the right track; we just have to stay the course.

The writer is the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources


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