Where is Kibungo?

Where is Kibungo?  Google map/earth “Kibungo, Rwanda”! This town is where I lived and worked last year on my master’s research project. It is the administrative town of Ngoma District. It is also the home of INATEK (the local university). It was my home away from home for almost six months. I am back home.

May 23, 2011 – Now in Kibungo, I feel much more grounded. Far away from busy people and traffic of Kigali, I can concentrate again on my research. On a personal note, I feel very much at home here. Same people, same friends, same smiles, and same generosity. It is Kibungo alright. Yes, the internet is slow, the food may be monotonous (staples include banana, potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, rice and beans) and the ‘hand cup’ shower is hard sometimes, but I am still content in Kibungo.

I still have several hurdles to pass before I can get down with my fieldwork: 1) submit my research proposal to the people at RARDA and IPAR (my key informants) for their comments and feedback, 2) get a formal ethical approval from the National Statistics Bureau of Rwanda, and finally, 3) get the local governance approval for fieldwork. I just submitted my research proposal to the director of Girinka (step 1 done), but I wonder how long the other processes will take. Regardless of the waiting time, I have to be ready for June, which is my only window of opportunity for dry season data collection. Here is my list of things to do: survey questionnaire designing, recruiting local university students, and contacting programme beneficiaries (which requires a sample frame of girinka participants in every sector in Ngoma District*), are the three most urgent matters at hand.

*Note: The administrative structure in Rwanda goes like this: Province – District – Sector – Cell – Village – Household.

Pictures of Kibungo – Here is a beautiful flower garden beside the Home of Joy, an orphanage taken care by the great sisters of Calcutta (Missionaries of Charity).

Ça passe ou ça casse!

May 19, 2011 – It’s been a week since I arrived in Rwanda and many things happened already. In Kigali, I met with the director of Girinka (One Cow Programme) at the Rwandan Animal Resource Development Authority (RARDA – the livestock unit of Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda) and the researchers at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR-Rwanda). Coincidentally, both RARDA and IPAR are interested in evaluating the girinka programme this year! As the government managing body, RARDA is interested in evaluating the programme structure, implementation, and operations side of things. IPAR’s approach is much broader and comprehensive: from girinka programme theory of change to impact attribution, IPAR wants to conduct a proper evaluation piece (i.e., using experimental methods with control group comparison and longitudinal design).

If the timing is the essence, I must admit I feel pretty lucky to come at the right time when both RARDA and IPAR are starting to work on their formative studies. Both RARDA and IPAR people were genuinely interested in my research and encouraged me to stay on board with their initiatives (for example, they invited me to sit on the technical committee of girinka evaluation research initiative). After meeting with these partners, I felt ‘inflated’ and wishful ideas started to flood my mind. Maybe I should join RARDA’s evaluation team and work on the country-wide assessment this summer? Or, perhaps I can partner with IPAR to work on a much more rigorous and longer-term evaluation study? All these thoughts started to overwhelm my mind, and I started to doubt about my ‘little research’. My first temptation and trial. After a hard soul (re)searching and guidance from Kevin (my mentor at IDRC), I regained my confidence and decided to focus on my research work again. That is why I am here.

Here are some pictures of Kigali moonlight and street light.

O~Mon Dieu!

May 12th, 2011 – Past three days, I was visiting our East and South Africa Regional Office (ESARO) in Nairobi. I was warmly welcomed by our IDRC colleagues – Asante sana (thank you very much in Swahili) everyone!

The purpose of this stopover was to take the careful steps to prepare for the upcoming fieldwork in Rwanda. I took care of the jet lag and set up the meetings in Kigali with expert informants. They are programme officers at Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) and researchers at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research in Rwanda (IPAR-Rwanda), a local think tank group. Also, I was able to get some valuable insights and feedback from the regional experts – our own IDRC senior specialists.

Despite my best efforts to take extra precautions, unexpected things still happened. I got a big surprise yesterday as my main local partner, the veterinarian at the Ngoma District where my study is planned to take place, sent me an email saying that he is currently in Egypt for professional training and will only be back in late August! O Mon Dieu, he was the “main” local expert. I am sure there will be a replacement during his absence, but he was the one that I have been keeping in touch and have built a relationship. The most significant issue here is not having the local expertise and logistic capacity to get the field work done in time. I am caught by surprise at this turn of event, but at the same time, I feel better that this unknown surfaced right at the beginning than later. So I decided not to panic yet. I will meet my other informants as scheduled and will see how things shape from there. O Mon Dieu…this is just the beginning – Ça commence bien! OMD, I will be repeating these three precious words a lot (my mantra on the field!!).

I took some pictures of my temporary ESARO office and our dear colleagues.

Gift of One Cow – Girinka Programme in Rwanda

It’s been exactly one year since I took my first flight to Africa. Before that momentous step, Africa didn’t mean much in my everyday mind – it was too far and too unknown for me to grasp or even understand. Despite my blatant ignorance, I heard a calling all the way from the Heart of Africa, that is Rwanda. As part of my master’s programme (Master of Food and Resource Economics at University of British Columbia), I joined the pilot project that brought together the UBC’s international nutrition team and the Institute of Agriculture, Technology, and Education of Kibungo (INATEK). We designed and conducted a baseline assessment of food security and nutrition status of Ngoma District in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.  In total, I stayed over five months between May and October 2010, which gave me enough time to get a sense of the culture, history, language, and the people.

Along the journey, I grew more curious by what I observed in Rwanda. Rwanda is developing and a fast one at that. Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa, and its population growth rate is still considerably high and upward trending. The living conditions are more precarious in rural than in urban areas. The majority of the poor live in rural areas and depend on agriculture.

How can we boost agriculture development and alleviate rural poverty? How can we help farmers mitigate soil erosion and water shortages? How to prioritise scarce governmental resources when there is multitude of priorities that all seem so pressing? What about the high prevalence of child morbidity and mortality? What about the ever-widening gap between the aspirations of young people entering the workforce and the limited employment opportunities? These issues are now on my everyday mind  (yes, even in the minus twenty degrees Celsius in Ottawa!).

Since January this year, I have been very fortunate to work on these issues in full-time at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC-CRDI) in Ottawa, Canada. Unlike my previous academic and professional background in environmental geography, sustainable business management, and food and resource economics, my research focus this year is something entirely new. Below is a brief introduction of my research proposal that I am working on this year at IDRC.

Gir’inka (pronounced ghee-ring-ha in Kinyarwanda) – or the “one cow per poor family” programme (hereon girinka) is currently being promoted as a poverty reduction strategy in Rwanda. Poor farmers receive a pregnant cow and pass on the first female calf to the next beneficiary. The primary objective of my research is to better understand the girinka programme structures, implementations, and its delivered outputs. More specifically, this study asks on the effectiveness of the programme for the beneficiaries in the district of Ngoma. Three agricultural development strategies prioritised by the government of Rwanda are of interest in this research: (1) natural resource management and water and soil conservation, (2) crop and animal production and commercial value chain, and (3) farmer organisations. Cross-cutting all these strategies are gender equity and environmental impact considerations.

I aim to address these questions through my research this year. Hopefully, this study can contribute to the betterment of girinka farmers’ livelihoods, however big or little it may be. One drop can still make a difference (see this fantastic Haida animation by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas).