Fighting poverty in rural Rwanda: A success story

Concerns about poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa are not new and poverty reduction efforts have been the prime agenda of many developing countries. The consequences of poverty often reinforce its complex causes, exacerbating the problem.

Concerns about poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa are not new and poverty reduction efforts have been the prime agenda of many developing countries.

The consequences of poverty often reinforce its complex causes, exacerbating the problem.

That is why poverty remains a big issue in countries north of river Limpopo and south of the Sahara. Poverty is not likely to be reduced in Sub-Saharan Africa without considerable improvement in government commitment and ownership of programs to support this goal.

Unfortunately, only a few Sub-Saharan African governments have explicitly identified poverty reduction as an important policy objective in their programs with Bank.

Rwanda however happens to be among countries that have clearly come up with poverty reduction strategies which are valid and reliable.

There have been a number of strategies to check and improve people’s livelihoods and the general standards of living. Take a typical example of the ‘One CowOne Household Programme.”

According to Dr. Evariste Namahungu, the coordinator of ‘One Cow One Household Programme’, under the government’s initiative, there has been significant improvement in people’s standards of living.

Cases of malnutrition are rare as most of the families are benefiting from the program.

A number of related agricultural activities have subsequently mushroomed hence checking the routine urban-rural migration. People can now relatively access employment in rural areas especially on small scale farms.

There are various farm needs for example; grass, buildings, gardens, etcetera that create jobs for the peasants.
This of course is blessed by the fact that the policy of decentralization brought the services and their attached employment to the rural areas.

The problem of rural -urban migration was always exacerbated by the policy of centralization. Centralization inevitably attracted a number of people to towns where all services and employment could be found.

Eavarist adds that, “The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources took up this role to ensure that the rural poor do not have to leave their homes upcountry and come to the city without any plan of survival. This programme is in place to empower rural families by giving them a cow that can produce milk for home consumption and sell, so as to generate an income to sustain other famirie needs. Apart from milk, manure from the cow dung can be used as fertilizers to enhance crop production”. 

Every ‘eligible’ poor rural family benefits from this programme.  The eligible include the most vulnerable groups of people in the Rwandan society. Apart from the cows, the vulnerable are given some free health insurances popularly known as ‘Mutele de Sante’   (Cost sharing health insurance) and can thus be treated when sick at an affordable charge. Health care is one of the most important basic needs in developing societies.

The program has not only checked the standards of living of people but also the general farming methods in the country.

The cows given to people are of high quality Friesian, Jersey and other modern breeds.

The traditional long horned Rwandan and Ankole cows are slowly disappearing.

These are cows that were generally reared because of the prestige attached to them, which can be traced in the country’s history.

But their low milk production cannot fit the modern demands and are therefore irrelevant.

Rwandan farmers have now understood the importance of cross breeds; Friesian and Jersey cow types, are significantly increasing their milk production.

The government has played a key role in facilitating farmers to buy the cows from overseas. Some organizations like; Send a Cow, Heifer Programme International, Lutheran World Federation, ‘Ubudehe’ and DCDP have also been instrumental in realising the  suuccess of the program.

Nonetheless a number of handicaps have been encountered. Some of these problems include; capacity (in some districts) to cope with the modern way of farming.

This can be traced in terms of human resources, minimal equipments like motorcycles for workers to access the remotest areas as well a shortage in Veteran services.

The modern cows are so demanding in terms of cash, feeding and treatment (when they get sick). A well trained and equipped veterinary officer must be always close to farmers to assist in case of problems. And yet only handful veterinary officers are available in districts.

This is a great handicap that the government of Rwanda is real fighting to overcome.

“We are combating this by training more workers in veterinary services and artificial insemination. We are organizing families into cooperatives and fundraising money so that they can support the training”, Dr. Namahungu observed.

The ‘One - Cow -One Household Programme’ started last year when 14,000 cows were given to rural farmers and so far 16,000 cows are on record.

Today, 330,000 families in the country have benefited from the program. It is expected that by the year 2020, poverty in Rwanda will be at its lowest.


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