Rethinking rural Rwanda

Editor, Rwanda recognises the disparity in income between rural and urban populations. It is torn between creating more urban jobs to meet demand or to understand possibilities of improving opportunities for rural families.

Editor,

Rwanda recognises the disparity in income between rural and urban populations. It is torn between creating more urban jobs to meet demand or to understand possibilities of improving opportunities for rural families.

In the latter situation, it is further conflicted between improving farming income for small holder farmers or to embrace consolidation to achieve economies of scale. In either of the cases it needs to improve agricultural practice, introduce new sources, such as aquaculture, and improved business and management practices.

All of these efforts require technical support and financing. They also require management improvement, a weakness in all sectors in Rwanda.

What makes this particularly problematic is that this weakness leads to a default to focus, first, on technology and farming practices expecting that management and business dimensions can be handled by the farm community itself.

Yet, by the farmers’ own admission that is the one area where they need substantive help.

When Rwanda rebuilt after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, it spent a significant effort in organising civil society, carefully considering best management practices and the participation of all citizens.

For the agriculture sector, organisation for change and development has defaulted to the formation of cooperatives, a form that is best suited for developed countries and for which the agricultural sector had minimal expertise.

The recent engagement of Rwanda with Korea has pointed out the similarities between the two countries. It points to Korea’s development, starting in the ‘70’s, of a programme, Saemaul Movement, similar to cooperatives but more conducive to the community models existing and being developed in Rwanda.

In Korea the programme, in the beginning, had focus on a strong development of culture, management and social development of each project to make sure that the effort was integral to the community and citizen participation. This takes time, patience, skill and commitment.

Unfortunately, the traditional structure for agriculture development in Rwanda is weak in the social dimension of community development and thus defaults to its stronger suit, technology and technological skills.

With the reorganisation of the ministerial sectors to improve efficiency, there needs to be a more collaborative and interdisciplinary effort in the development of projects. Globally, educational institutions and government agencies are seeing the necessity of working across bureaucratic and academic boundaries.

Farmers are, by their occupation, required to work across all areas, from soil and seed management to chemistry and particularly business management at all levels, whether for a single farmer, including the family, or a community.

As Rwanda’s commodities programmes develop, farming becomes more complex. The Korean Saemaul Movement adapted to Rwanda’s needs brings these disparate elements together. This requires the various sectors of the Rwandan economy to reach across bureaucratic boundaries to bring these elements to focus on one of the most complex occupations in the world.

Dr. Tom P. Abeles, Rwanda

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