Apart from unreliable rainfall in some parts, most of Eastern Province has good natural conditions for milk production in terms vegetation and livestock. In addition, farmers in the districts of Nyagatare, Gatsibo, Rwamagana and Kayonza have a long tradition in animal husbandry.
Milk is a key constituent in the local diet and represents the major cash income for many farmers in the said districts. No wonder thus, the East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD), a regional industry development programme has pushed its tentacles wide, in this part of rural Rwanda.
The overall aim is to foster dairy farmer cooperatives with large milk chilling facilities to supply milk for the processing in industries.
The project that is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is set to boost the yields and incomes of thousands of small farmers in Eastern Province and other parts of Rwanda.
According one of EADD top officials in Rwanda, Emmanuel Munyandinda the overall aim of the project is to lift rural families out of hunger and poverty.
“We want to double household dairy income through integrated intervention in dairy production, market access and knowledge application. We are organizing business farmers into associations that will own and manage plants and develop hubs of dairy business services.”
EDD has helped dairy farmers in Kiramuruzi sector in Gatsibo district with artificial insemination, hence improving local breeds of dairy cows to produce more milk per day per cow.
To produce better milk quality EADD emphasizes on animal nutrition and health. This is expected to be achieved through Heifer International training. Heifer International is EADD’s partner in dairy animal husbandry, business practices.
Celestin Nyamutamba an EADD official said that what farmers need to do is to organize themselves in cooperatives of at least 3000 members, so that they start benefiting from EDD project.
He said that the project consciously targets women cooperatives due to their role in developing communities.
Nyamutamba remarked that women are responsible for up to 85 percent of food produced in Rwanda, and yet, they frequently have the fewest resources and are particularly affected by poverty.
“We thus need to address a situation where families are caught in a downward poverty twist, characterized by declining food intake, poor education and health services, degraded and disappearing grasslands for their herds, and little-to-no access to commercial market systems,” he explained.
EADD started the project by training women leaders in various districts so that they are equipped with the desired skills to run modern dairy cooperatives.
The women leaders are expected to disseminate the knowledge and skills to others in villages.
Lack of skills and negative attitude towards cooperatives have generally been the undoing of small farmers. The few who have been involved in dairy farming have failed to get sustainable markets for milk and other by-products.
“Smallholder households are unable to generate increased income from current dairy business endeavours because they lack access to production technologies, efficient farming practices and links to markets,” remarked Nyamutamba.
Women leaders say the history of cooperatives in their respective districts derailed the blossoming of dairy cooperatives in general.
“Cooperatives of various natures have been mismanaged, hence leaving the people with a negative attitude.
Here are signs of hope for full-scale blossoming of dairy cooperatives since people’s attitudes have drastically changed.
The teachings and sensitization EDD has been giving, has opened the minds of many and particularly women leaders.
“We are going to mobilize other women so that we form dairy cooperatives forthwith…the benefits accrued are clear,” stresses Jane Uwumutoni, a woman leader in Gatsibo district.
EDD is in the right channel because development interventions should be aimed at addressing both technological gaps and marketing problems.
Integration of crossbred cattle to the sector is imperative for dairy development in the country. This can be achieved either through promotion of large private investment to introduce new technology in the sector such as improved genotypes, feed and processing, and promotion of integration of crossbred cattle into the smallholder sector through improving their access to improved cattle breeds.
According Nathalie Uwamugira the agriculture officer of Kirehe district, severe shortages, low quality and seasonal unavailability of feed, remain as major constraints to livestock production in the region.
“These constraints need to be addressed and technological change be promoted to increase milk production,” she says.
Nicholas Rwaka the Vice Mayor in charge Economic planning in Gatsibo district, says that given the considerable potential for smallholder income and employment generation from high-value dairy products, development of the dairy sector in Rwanda, can contribute significantly to poverty alleviation and nutrition in the country.
He says that the traditional cycle of poverty in rural Rwanda can only be broken, if women championed the development of dairy farming.