By Fidelis Zvomuya
Sixteen years after blood flowed, it’s now water under the bridge as milk is flowing in ‘the country of a thousand hills’, Rwanda’s Jocelyn Ingabire says. This increase in milk production, is attributed to favorable government policies and programmes as well as development projects such as EADD.
“Here in Rwanda, a dairy cow is a king,” Ingabire says, as she take us through her plot in Munyiginya Sector in the Nyagatare district.
Nyagatare lies in an area of grassy plains, and low hills, with excellent views in all directions, including the mountains of southern Uganda and, on a very clear day, the Virunga volcano range.
The land is not farmed as extensively as other areas of the country, and there is a large amount of cattle.
The area has a higher average daytime temperature than the Rwandan average, and lower precipitation, which come sometimes lead to droughts.
Nyagatare district is divided into 14 sectors and its geographical feature makes it a potential milk hub.
Ingabire a genocide widow and mother of four is also a beneficiary of the government’s land reform for peace programme.
Well kept two cows giving her an average of 20 litres a day, nicely prepared fields with health crops as well as green field of hay makes the plot look different from the rest of her neighborhood.
“Hard work, passion and the love of what I know is the key driver of this farm,” she explains as she shows her neatly planted rows of Napier grass and broad bean fields which she uses as demonstration plots for her farm visitors.
“Maintaining my basic animal health as well as sharing technical information with other farmers is of paramount importance to me.
“Dairy is my love. I look at a cow and I see beauty and money. It’s a sector that requires dedication, skills and hands on management. You have to be at the farm daily, check your cows now and again,” Ingabire explains.
Rwanda has started seeing the importance of dairy farming.
“Dairy has opened a lot of people’s eyes here. This has resulted in people investing more in pure and cross breeds.
“Through farm visits organised by EADD to some of the neighbouring countries, we have started to see changes in the way farmers do dairy now. Most people are now moving from the traditional Ankole breeds to pure dairy animals,” she said.
After she lost her husband during the 1994 genocide, Ingabire became the sole breadwinner for her family, raising four children.
From 1994 through 2007, her family eked out a meagre living, depending solely on the family land where they practiced small scale farming, which barely supported their basic food needs.
The family lived in a tiny mud house; and she struggled to pay school fees for her children beyond primary level.
In 1995, she was among a group of widows who set up the Association des Veuves du Genocide Agahozo (AVEGA), a self-help group that now supports more than 3,800 women who lost their husbands during the atrocities and 11,473 orphans.
“When my husband was killed, I thought that was the end. Despite such a loss, I have managed to go through hardships and now I am a proud family head with a happy family.
“Since I started dairying here, I have managed to build this beautiful house. My children are going to school. I can now afford a lot of thinks and I am in the process of buying more land from my neighbours. I am looking at expanding my fodder production project, due to the current demand” she said.
In 2007 Ingabire become part of the EADD project in Rwanda and was selected to become a community animal health worker as well as trainer.
She is mandated to implement basic preventive and curative care for animals so as to improve the health and wealth of poor communities.
She also trains farmers on basic skills in handling minor livestock diseases, symptomatic treatment, wounds and carry out minor operative care.
“I also do lecture to farmers on a number of farming activities such as milk handling, hygiene, animal care. I treats animals for common illnesses such as diarrhea or worms,” she says.
According to Paul Benjamin Nzigamasabo, EADD’s dissemination facilitator community animal health workers are significant in the villages.
“They act as livestock extension focal persons in the remote villages. They also facilitate in informing the extension agents in times of emergencies,” Nzigamasabo says.
With the establishment of the health workers there has been a tremendous improvement of livestock extension service coverage and farmers expressed their strong views of support of such idea.
Ingabile has trained more than 300 farmers and among them more than 60 male farmers.
“I have received a lot of compliments from the farmers that have gone through this farm. Even my neighbours are starting to appreciate the importance of having a dairy cow and they are starting to take part in the training,” she says.
Community animal health workers are trained by EADD in basic animal healthcare to be able to deliver services and drugs to farmers and to provide farmer-to-farmer training
“A decentralised vaccination and animal health system is important as this enables the community to take care of their own livestock, look for drugs, have their own drug stores and treat the animals themselves” says Nzigamasabo.
The dairy sector is brimming with investment opportunities. Over the years, the country has managed to improve its breed, eradicate diseases, build farmers’ capacity through the establishment of cooperatives as well as land redistribution, which saw an increase in productivity.
According to Dr Agnes Kalibata, agriculture minister milk production increased by nearly 800% over the last 10 years.
Kalibata acknowledge the increase to favorable government policies as well as the working relationship they have with the private sector and the donor community.
“In 2000 we produced 50 000 tons of milk and this has risen to 350 000 tons by 2009. Also the number of cattle increased by 1 000% from 162 000 in 1994 to 1,2 million last year,” Kalibata says.
Milk consumption also increased by 100% from 15,7 litres per person per year to 30,9.
According to Kalibata, the one cow per poor family programme introduced in 2006 by President Paul Kagame also contributed to the increase.
“The programme is targeting 257 000 households most poor people who do not own a cow but have a pasture, water and a shed.
“The first heifer is passed on to another household. This programme base its principal on the issue of using animals as a base to fight poverty through milk production, cash from the sale and also support crop agriculture through manure,” she says.
So far more than 89 000 families have benefited, hence an increase in milk production.
The country has 40 milk collection centres handling 80 000 litres per day, accounting for 5% of the total produce. It has 3 processing plants handling 7 500 litres of collected milk.
“We as government would like to see an improvement in dairy cattle management practices (feeding, diseases control and breeding).
The development of appropriate milk collection, transportation and storage facilities.
“And we encourage our farmer to produce hygienic milk at farm-hold level and along the whole chain. We are calling on investors to invest in the establishment of milk processing facilities and infrastructures,” she says.
But for Ingabire she would like to an improvement in animal husbandry, the dairy cattle breeds, the infrastructure, veterinary extension and affordable veterinary inputs.