Late last year, Rwanda experienced a severe shortage of milk amidst a prolonged dry season that hit farmers hard. Inyange Industries, the country leading dairy processors, reduced its production by half owing to a decline in raw milk supplies. Rwanda’s long dry season normally runs from June to August. But in 2021, it lasted until September, limiting the availability of fodder and water for livestock. Climate change continues to pose a challenge to the country’s aspirations to increase milk production and meet a growing local demand. But Rwanda has been making investments to ensure that such milk shortages do not recur so often. In 2006 the government initiated the ‘One cow per poor family’ programme, commonly referred to as ‘Girinka’. The programme aims to make dairy cattle available to the most vulnerable households. A farmer on the revolving cow ownership programme is required to construct a cowshed, establish an improved forage unit, and agree to pass the first offspring to another farmer. Marie Ange Mukeshimana, 38 from Gasabo District says before receiving a cow through Girinka a few years ago, she was struggling to make ends meet. Now, the mother of three says she has more than four cows, which help her get milk not only for home use but also sell and get money to use in other things. “One thing I like about the programme is that my children are getting enough milk, thus helping them stay away from any issue related to malnutrition, which was a challenge before,” she says. Mukashemana is just one of the many families that benefited from the program since it was initiated as they are assured of milk throughout the year since the cows keep on reproducing. At the moment, the Girinka programme has also improved household incomes, with farmers like Mukeshimana selling manure to supplement earnings from milk. Rwanda tackles poverty with ‘one cow per poor family, and during the fiscal year 2021/2022, the government allocated Rwf3 million in the budget to support Girinka. It brings the budgetary allocations to the programme to Rwf36.2 billion since it was initiated in 2006. Between January and September 2021, some 21,324 cows had been distributed. Eugene Kwibuka, the information and communication programme manager at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, says the programme’s impact has been felt beyond the recipients’ families. He cites the example of a school milk programme, One Cup of Milk per Child, which has been kept running with supplies from Girinka. Solange Uwituze, the deputy director general in charge of Animal Resources Research and Technology Transfer at Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), says the school milk programme is helping efforts to eradicate malnutrition in the country. “A 10-year Girinka impact assessment indicated that this programme reduced child stunting, wasting, and other forms of malnutrition in general,” says Uwituze. In addition to being given cows, dairy farmers have been supported in other ways. Genetic improvement through artificial insemination services and the introduction of high-milk-producing breeds have boosted production. Regular animal vaccination campaigns have enhanced disease control. Other initiatives are electrification, improving the management of milk collection centres and dairy plants, provision of equipment, and the introduction of new varieties of forage as well as technologies in feeding and forage conservation. As a result of such support, milk production increased from 442,337 metric tonnes in 2011 to 891,326 metric in 2021. By September 2021, a total of 413,121 dairy cows had been distributed under Girinka, according to the ministry of agriculture. According to officials, the numbers could rise further if the government implements its plan to distribute dairy cows to all Rwandan poor families under Ubudehe – a cultural value that emphasises mutual assistance among people living in the same area in order to solve their socio-economic problems.