The number of cows in Rwanda grew from just 172,000 in the immediate aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to 1.3 million currently, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources..
Milk production went up from over 7.2 million litres per year in 1994 to 817 million litres in 2019, increasing over 110 times over the last 25 years.
Solange Uwituze, the Deputy Director General of Animal Research and Technology Transfer at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), told The New Times that Rwanda’s cattle are today composed of 43 per cent crossbreeds, 41 per cent local breeds, and 16 per cent pure breeds.
A big proportion of crossbreeds, Uwituze said, were donated to citizens through the government-backed Girinka scheme (One Cow per Poor Family) under which more than 354,700 cows had been distributed to needy Rwandan households by mid-June 2019.
Girinka was initiated by President Paul Kagame back in 2006.
The initiative has significantly boosted nutrition, farm productivity and household incomes.
“There has been a deliberate effort to improve the genetic potential of our national dairy herd through artificial insemination. Today, we inseminate 100,000 cows per year,” Uwituze said.
Shortly before the Genocide, the country had 600,000 cows but most of them were butchered by Genocide perpetrators during the three-month slaughter.
In the end only 172,000 cows were left by July 1994.
Madeleine Mukarwigema, a 67-year-old resident of Save Sector in Gisagara District, who lost her husband and four children in the Genocide, told The New Times that all her three cows were slaughtered at the time.
Mukarwigema is one of many survivors whose cattle were butchered by the killers.
Fortunately for Mukarwigema and others like her they later became proud owners of cows again, thanks in large part to government support.
A cow she obtained through the Girinka programme would later multiply into five cows. About a month ago she sold two of them so she could further improve her welfare.
“A cow is significant in Rwandan culture. Anyone who owned cows was always regarded as wealthy,” she noted.
She added: “I get about 15 litres of milk a day from two lactating cows. I sell 10 litres at between Rwf200 and Rwf250 a litre and consume the rest, I also give milk to my neighbours.”
She said that the cows have helped her acquire a biogas facility which has subsequently reduced the amount of wood fuel she uses.
But Mukarwigema also sees her cattle as companions because, she says, “I never feel lonely when I am around them even when I am actually alone most of the time.”
She also said that she uses cow dung to fertilise her garden of vegetables.
Figures from a June 2018 Report by National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB) show that Rwanda exported dairy products amounting to 17.5 million kilogrammes from July 2017 to June 2018, fetching over $20.6 million (about Rwf18 billion).
This represented an increase of 58 per cent compared to over $13 million (about Rwf11 billion) which was generated from more than 12 million kilogrammes of dairy product exports between July 2016 and June 2017.
Further reporting by Viviane Irabizi.