By Stephanie Cappa
Stephanie Cappa is the Manager of Development Policy at InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S. based humanitarian and international development nonprofits. In this role, Ms. Cappa leads international development policy and advocacy, focusing on food security, climate change, global health, and water and sanitation. InterAction is partnering with The Council on its upcoming Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.
Less than 20 years after the devastating genocide of 1994, when more than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, Rwanda’s economic recovery has been impressive. Though Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world, the government is following through on an ambitious roadmap for development; the country has seen 7% growth in recent years. The foundation of this recovery effort is a country-led agricultural investment plan that is aimed at helping millions of Rwanda’s subsistence farmers literally grow themselves out of poverty.
Rwanda’s plan is, in turn, supported by a number of donors, including the United States, which pledged at the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, to scale-up support for country-driven approaches to food security, agricultural growth, and poverty reduction.
In March, during a visit to Rwanda, I met several farmers and asked them directly what the impact had been of this agricultural investment. How were their lives affected? Florence Nizeyimana and Elias Nsangwahose (pictured here) live in western Rwanda where they farm wheat, potatoes, and maize in the red clay of one of the country’s thousands of steep hillsides. Across the country, tree clearing and hillside farming has led to moderate or severe soil degradation on 40-50% of Rwanda’s agricultural lands. As a result, the family’s harvests barely allowed them to break even and they were forced to consider leaving farming for good.
Then, a partnership between the government of Rwanda, USAID, the Canadian government, and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was created to help thousands of farmers in Rwanda, including Florence and Elias. This program was a direct result of the 2009 G8 pledge made at L’Aquila to invest $22 billion over three years in food and agricultural security. In the case of Rwanda, the funds have been used to help reduce widespread soil erosion and provide access to fertilizer, seeds, training, and credit.
In just a few years, Florence and Elias’ family has tripled their crop yields, harvesting up to two tons of potatoes on their small plot in a good season. With the new profits from crop sales saved in a local cooperative, the family expects to have enough to both send their eight-month old son to school when he is old enough and start a small business with sixteen other local farmers participating in the program. Elias told me that life is very different – better – now.
U.S. and G8 country assistance, aligned with Rwanda’s county-owned plan, was the catalyst for this change. The Chicago Council’s Symposium and the Camp David meeting of G8 leaders that follows provide an opportunity to reflect upon such successes in the fight against global hunger and remember the human face of food insecurity. But gains – in Rwanda and elsewhere – can be fragile and now is a time for all actors from civil society, private sector, and government to recommit to action.