Gervais Uzabakiriho, a dairy farmer in Gicumbi District, inspects his cattle with a look of contentment. The top milk producer in the district is a beneficiary of the Girinka programme. He uses modern animal husbandry practices to ensure high milk production. However, Uzabakiriho was one of the poor people in area 15 years ago and received his first dairy cow from the Girinka programme in 2002.
Uzabakiriho was one of the hundreds of poor Rwandans that received dairy cattle before the programme was officially launched countrywide. Today, Uzabakiriho sells over 150 litres of milk at the local milk collection centre. He is one of the rich residents in Gicumbi, thanks to the stable source of income from milk sales.
The district is also among the largest milk producing areas in the country, thanks to the Girinka programme. The programme seeks to fight poverty and malnutrition among poor households across the country.
Uzabakiriho attributes the success of the programme in Gicumbi to the fact that most of the beneficiaries embraced it as a business, meaning that “they ensured that the cows were well-looked after and fed to produce enough for home consumption and for the market.”
“Farmers used artificial insemination to improve their cattle breed and also planted fodder crops, including grass, to ensure high milk production,” he says.
This was a departure from the traditional cattle rearing, where most residents engaged in livestock activities not necessarily as a source of income, but wealth and prestige. The cattle are also grazed on open pasture lands compared to zero grazing practiced by Girinka beneficiaries.
“We (Girinka programme beneficiaries) look to the cow as sole source of income,” Uzabakiriho says.
To ensure that they take charge of the milk marketing processes, the beneficiaries in Gicumbi formed a dairy cooperative in 2004 following significant increase in milk production. From collecting about 40 litres of milk a day, the cooperative now handles close to 40,000 litres of milk daily.
“Most of the beneficiaries, including me, had small pieces of land. So, we focused on indoor cattle rearing to maximise our productivity,” Pierre Celestin Hakizimana, who received a dairy cow from the programme in 2003, explains.
Hakizimana is also the president of Ngondori Dairy Farmers Cooperative in Gicumbi. He says that members benefit more from their dairy farming activities through the cooperative “as they market the product as a group which ensures that they get better prices.”
“We came together to form a cooperative to manage milk production and marketing,” adds Hakizimana. The cooperative official says the move has improved marketing of milk, adding that the group protects individual members against unscrupulous business people besides easing access to funding.
The cooperative has six coolers and receives over 38,000 litres of milk daily.
Dr Gilbert Gashirabake, the district’s animal resource officer, said Gicumbi District produces over 65,000 litres of milk a day throughout the year, thanks to the programme and modern animal husbandry practices used by farmers.
Rwanda has over 1.2 million cattle, according to statistics. More than 343,080 dairy cattle have so far been distributed to vulnerable Rwandans under the Girinka programme, according to Methode Gasana Ngabo, the Girinka programme coordinator at Rwanda Agriculture Board.
More than 22,500 dairy cows have been distributed in Gicumbi under the programme over the past 15 years, according to the officials. The district has over 76,000 heads of cattle, Isidore Gafarasi, the head of veterinary services at Rwanda Animal Resources Development Authority (RARDA), says.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Gicumbi is one of the success stories as far as the Girinka programme is concerned.