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).