YoBloCo: more than just raising youth awareness

I have just realized how much effective blogging can help us achieve fostering agricultural transformation. In few days from now, Rwanda’s agro-processing would get another boost – and surely this blog will have played a great role.

Capture of my Blog

Capture of my Blog

Four days ago, when I woke up early morning, I saw a new email from a gentleman based in Ottawa-Canada. The man, who is evidently an investor, wrote: “I got your contact while researching on agribiz… I wanted to get in contact and exchange and maybe, also get guidance from someone with your experience,” reads part of the email.

He went on saying: “My aim is to install a small plant (from South Africa) 3-4 tons per hour, producing maize flour and other by-products. I will travel to Kigali by the end of May for 4 weeks and would like to see if a meeting can be set up,” the main part of the email concluded. “I warmly hope to meet you soon somewhere in Kigali.” That’s how I ended my reply.

And when I checked quickly my Blogstat, I realized that someone based in Canada had just viewed more than 20 of my blogposts. Then I could establish a relationship between the message I received and the posts viewed: most of the posts viewed were the ones I wrote on the need of agro-processing in my country, Rwanda [samples of the posts can be viewed here first, second].

Then, I tried to make simple calculations and realized that a plant installed with capacity to process 3-4 tons per hour will be a huge investment to my country: not only attracting foreign investment(thousands of dollars), but also contributing to agricultural value addition.

There is no doubt that if the plan gets materialized, local maize growers will get ready market for their produce, in addition to accessing quality processed maize flour near them. The email made it clear that the investor wants to venture into maize flour, but also other by-products. Maybe animal feeds make part of the other products; it came abruptly into my mind. If so, we can say ‘a boost to agricultural value chain development.’

Think about a great number of people who will find jobs at the plant – most of them young people, I guess! And I could make a long list of development activities that a certain number of rural Rwandan farmers could get, thanks to the time I took to highlight some investment needs and opportunities in agriculture. It was really an amazing morning!

This is what I really wanted to see happening when I decided to create this blog.

Coming back to the philosophy behind the YoBloCo Competition, I have to remind that by initiating the competition, the “Agriculture, Rural Development and Youth in the Information Society (ARDYIS Project)”, wanted to achieve its mandate to “raise youth awareness and capacity on agricultural and rural development issues in ACP countries through ICTs.”

From my recent experience, I can say that the philosophy behind this initiative is something more than raising youth awareness; as the described experience has proven it.

Yes, the platform can be used to raise youth awareness, yes it can encourage youth to express their agriculture-related issues, successes and challenges, but I also see that it ultimately has high potential to connect young farmers with potential investors who can become partners and possibly bring in resources; given that access to agriculture finance has been a great challenge for many (young) farmers.

Imagine what would be the impact if there was at least one person blogging about activities of each farming cooperative he/she belongs to (given that the government has been pushing a lot so that farmers can join cooperatives as a way of facilitating capacity building, but also to allow them express their views together).

Underexploited opportunity

But again, I wondered what would happen to Rwanda’s agriculture if we had hundreds of young people blogging on agriculture-related issues, but it’s not yet the case. For this particular YoBloCo competition, I only saw two entries from Rwanda (mine inclusive). This was underexploited opportunity!

Is there any possibility to increase young people’s interest to do so? Is the environment conducive in Rwanda? The answer is yes.

One Laptop Per Child

Primary school children with their OLPC laptops in class (Internet photo)

Primary school children with their OLPC laptops in class (OLPC photo)

Briefly, I would not be mistaken to say that Rwanda is among African countries that are counting a lot on ICT potential for their better future. Even little Rwandan children are being introduced to ICT tools: through One Laptop Per Child Program, schoolchildren touch computers from their first day of primary school one. By the end of 2012, 210,000 laptops had been deployed to more than 400 schools across the country. And most of these children come from farming families. Even those whose parents are not farmers, obviously their uncles or grandfathers are farmers – hence a great connection to farm realities.

Schoolgoing girl with a laptop in her rural neighborhood (Internet photo)

Schoolgoing girl with a laptop in her rural neighborhood (OLPC photo)

Then, even though I’m not a teacher, I guess that one of the best methodological approaches to be effective in introducing these ICT tools to children from farming background, would be to use agriculture-related examples for better understanding. Otherwise, I don’t think, let’s say, examples on drones will be the best ones! Obviously these little children would grow easily and rapidly their interests in the new tools and in agriculture. They would become the best “kinds of hybrids.” For sure something big could come out of this interest.

Well, I can talk and talk a lot on this topic. But to conclude this piece, let me note that engaging youth in agriculture issues with means of ICTs seems to be the quickest way of achieving information society among farming communities, and as many of you would argue, once you have easy access to information, you’ve got power to improve your livelihoods significantly and get out of poverty. Then, initiatives such as YoBloCo prove to be on the right way.

Youth on track to develop more mobile apps for agric professionalization

In the recent past, I posted a piece on my views on why ICT apps should take the lead of Rwanda’s agricultural transformation. And as time goes on, I become extremely happy to see that happening, thanks to great job being done by determined young Rwandans.

Members of AgriStars being congratulated after proving that their app has high potential to provide solutions for agriculture

Members of AgriStars being congratulated after proving that their app has high potential to provide solutions for agriculture

Now the latest good news in Rwanda on ICT for agric is a new mobile app that will help in detecting soil fertility. The project has been developed by Agristars, a group of four young Rwandans from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology.

“After analysing, one is able to tell what nutrients are in the soil and what crops are suitable to be grown on that particular piece of land,” explains Dieudonne Ukurikiyeyesu, a member of the team. “We are not going to sleep, we need to improve our project and work hard.”

These are really very promising statements for Rwanda’s agriculture sector in their near future. The AgriStars’ app emerged the excellent one among others yesterday on Saturday during the national Microsoft Imagine Cup competition.

The software application they developed analyses the fertility of the soil by simply taking a picture of the soil and then subjecting the sample to laboratory analysis.

In my views, such innovative ideas are very important for us Rwandans for several reasons: first of all, once the app gets operational, for sure there will be significant increase of productivity; given that farmers will be planting suitable crops to a particular area.

Since Rwandans face shortage of farmlands (with an average of 0.59ha per household), the mobile app will really help many Rwandan farmers to maximize profit out of their tiny farmlands. Because we are a small country, so each inch counts.

Last, but not least, it’s obvious that once the business plan of the project gets finalized and operational, for sure we expect creation of jobs for many young Rwandans who will be working with the project.

The AgriStars emerged as one of young Rwandans who are able to create ICT-enabled solutions for agriculture after that many more young Rwandan developers have shown their keenness to embrace agriculture with new ICT solutions. A recent example has been a University student girl, Nancy Sibo, who has last month unveiled a Mobile Application that detects estrus cycle of cows. Even though the ICT4ag is still in its embryonic stage here, but I know a few more young Rwandans who are busy working on their agriculture-related ICT projects — which is a good trend. I will keep you informed on these innovative ideas being developed by youth here in Rwanda.

 

Girinka: How a simple cow gives hope to many Rwandan families

Maria Uzamukunda, 45, a resident of Kamonyi district of Southern Province, says she has been improving her family livelihoods significantly thanks to a cow she got few years back.

cowThe mother of two used to have no house, but managed to get her own decent house, pro¬vide her school-going children with all basic needs and now cover her family’s health insurance among other needs.

What is more interesting to know is that the woman, who became widow following the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, didn’t buy the cow, but she got it from her neighbor free of charge. The widow also has already given the first female calf to her neighbor poor. And so forth.

In other words, Uzamukunda is among beneficiaries of Girinka [loosely translated as ‘may you own a cow’] initiative that is playing a great role in alleviating poverty, improving nutrition while increasing income for poor families in rural Rwanda since its inception in 2006.

Evidently the initiative has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda, especially milk products. For instance, between 2009 and 2011, national milk production increased by 11.3%, rising to 372.6 million litres from 334.7 million litres. Over the same period, meat production increased by 9.9%, according to the Government of Rwanda Annual Report 2010-2011.

Given that FAO has dedicated this year to Family farming, which is defined as a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour, I really do believe that such a home-grown solution (Girinka) is a good example of how African Continue reading

Life on Two Wheels: On the Road to success

A woman in rural  neighborhood  of Bugesera, with a posture that reflects an image of self-confidence and blissfulness, riding a bike to attend a local farming cooperative meeting. (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

A woman in rural neighborhood of Bugesera, with a posture that reflects an image of self-confidence and blissfulness, riding a bike to attend a local farming cooperative meeting. (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Not only for herself, but also using the bike to help her colleagues to attend the meeting (Eric Didier Karinganire)

Not only for herself, but also using the bike to help her colleagues to attend the meeting (Eric Didier Karinganire)

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) seeks entries

Deadline: Tuesday 6 May  2014. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is working with a multitude of partners in five different regions to address the increasing challenges of global warming and declining food security, by analysing and supporting changes in agricultural practices, policies and institutions. We integrate a gender perspective into our project and program strategies.

We continuously try to illustrate the work we do with partners in our regions on CCAFS blog and web site. But now we want to hear from you! We are calling for blog posts about your experiences with regards to climate change, farming and food security!

We will pick five stories from the pool of submissions, one from each of our regions – East Africa, West Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America – featuring stories about people and organisations creating a positive change linked to food and farming in their communities.

The stories should be 600-800 words. We would like to see you integrate a climate change, youth and/or gender component into your story, and base the blog on your own experiences. You may be a farmer yourself, or working in a youth project related to farming, or focusing on gender-issues within food and farming.

The competition is open to everyone,andwe strongly encourage Young Agriculture and Climate Change Professionals to participate!

How are you making a difference for farmers around the world? Tell us your story!Photo: UNAMID/Youth Farming project  

 

Few suggestions to get you started:
– It can be a story based on your own farming experience or working with farmers or other food system actors. You could give us an insight to your work and the challenges you face while providing examples of how food system actors are adapting to climate change;
– It can be a case study that has been successful in helping women or youth farmers adapt to or mitigate climate change;
– Reflect on your own work, related to climate change and agriculture, and how you see the agriculture- and food systems best adapting to climate change;
Winning blogs will be selected by CCAFS Communications Team. Selection criteria will include:

 

– Innovation (both how you tell the story and through which mediums);
– How compelling your story is;
– How concrete your message and examples are;
– Ability to include a gender and youth component.

How do I apply?
Blogs should be sent to Cecilia Schubert (c.schubert[at]cgiar.org) by Tuesday 6 May  2014. Blogs will be posted throughout May/June 2014.

Some requirements:

  • Write in a conversational style and use simple language.
  • Feel free to include photos with your blog, or a video/presentation/poster etc. It can also be a photo-essay with text instead of a full blog story.
  • Since we are seeking stories linked to our regions, you have to reference the regions (or countries within the region) in the story. We prefer stories with concrete country examples.
  • Make sure you have references for facts, quotes and other information you use that are not your own opinions.
  • Credit all pictures – either taken by you or from someone else, and make sure photos are Creative Commons.
  • Blogs should be written in English. Stories related to Latin America and West Africa can be translated into Spanish and French, respectively. That means that you can submit a translated version (to Spanish and French), in addition to the English version, if you are selected.
  • Note: Stories may come to be edited to fit the CCAFS blog format.

What do you gain from it?

The winners will get their blogs posted on CCAFS blog, and stories will be promoted within CCAFS wide networks. Stories will be featured in the respective region, including social media promotion, featured in newsletters and more. The winners will have the chance to highlight their own blog, web site and profile. We will also link to the winners’ Twitter handle.

Now, start writing!

The article was primarily posted on CCAFS website

Strengthening post-harvest interventions and resilience to climate change in Rwanda

Ideally, improving food security should just be not only a question of increasing production, but also a matter of ensuring that the food that is produced is used to the best effect. And when we talk about modernizing agriculture, post harvest handling should be a very important component of the whole value chain; especially when it comes to African countries where many people are exposed to shortage of food.

Grain silos in Rwanda's special economic zone (Photo: The New Times)

Grain silos in Rwanda’s special economic zone (Photo: The New Times)

Despite the ideal, the World Bank report released early March, revealed that in Africa vast amounts of food are wasted during production and processing. This means that countries on the continent still have a long way to go if they have to rely on the sector to position their economies.

Therefore, significant work is to be done by both Governments and stakeholders. This is what happened recently in Rwanda when the Government of Rwanda and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched a new project that is meant to advance the country’s efforts to reduce post-harvest losses.

The Climate Resilient and Post-harvest Agribusiness Support Project (PASP) will target over 32,400 rural households (155,518 people) in 10 districts located in Rwanda’s the north-west, southern and eastern regions will benefit from PASP. The project will provide opportunities for smallholder farmers to acquire the skills, knowledge and access to specialized service providers to create and operate viable businesses capable of delivering larger volumes of improved produce to the market and managing the climate risks in post-production processes.

I can say that such a project is a timely undertaking for various reasons.

First of all, we need to understand Rwanda’s recent move. Under the Government of Rwanda’s Crop Intensification Programme (CIP), the total production of maize, wheat and cassava tripled from 2007 to 2011, the production of beans doubled, and the production of rice and Irish potato rose by 30 per cent. Concurrent with the increase in crop production, Rwanda has also seen a shift towards more commercial agriculture. However, post-harvest losses are recognized as one of the greatest sources of inefficiency in agricultural production in Rwanda; and therefore, one of the best opportunities for effectively improving crop productivity and resilience given the country’s reliance on rainfed agriculture and its vulnerability to climate change. Continue reading

20 years on… a tale of a woman who is regaining hope for life through agribusiness

Twenty years ago this date (April 7), Rwanda plunged into genocide, 100 days in which more than 1,000,000 Tutsis were massacred and everything was destroyed. In the past 20 years Rwanda has pulled its economy up from the ruins to become one of Africa’s most dynamic and fastest growing economies. And women have been playing great role in the recovery. During the genocide against Tutsis, Donatille Nibagwire’s family was massacred. But this woman has found the strength to rebuild her life as an agribusiness entrepreneur…

Banana (Photo: Internet)

Banana (Photo: Internet)

Losing one’s entire family at a go can be devastating. One’s world turns upside down. But for Donatille Nibagwire, the killing of her entire family during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was a spur — a detonator that sent her flying into life.

Left to the elements, life forced Mrs Nibagwire to plough on, to be innovative, to chart her own path.

She is one of the several genocide survivors who shrugged off that horrible episode in Rwanda’s history — an unspeakable madness that left about one million people dead — and went on to raise a happy family and run a successful business.

Following in the footsteps of her late father — her biggest inspiration to date — Mrs Nigabwire founded Floris-Rwanda, a successful agribusiness concern that exports flowers and Rwandan décor items to Europe. She founded the company 13 years ago.

Lessons from her father

“My father was a popular farmer. I always watched the way he worked keenly … he successfully ran one of the country’s model farms — growing coffee and avocados among other crops. So many local farmers used to visit our farm to learn from him,” she recalls.

When she started Floris-Rwanda, the lessons she learned while watching her father work came in handy and paid off.

Three months after the launch of her business, her clientele base grew so big that she couldn’t meet the demand for fruits and other plant products.

Life is defined by opportunities, so they say. Mrs Ngabwire’s defining moment came when she met and partnered with a business person from Belgium who was interested in exporting organic bananas to the European market.

For Floris-Rwanda, this was an opportunity that could not be blown. Mrs Nibagwire quickly mobilised farmers in Kirehe District to grow bananas — organically — on a large scale.

Today, working with about 538 households, Mrs Nibagwire has not only contributed to the reduction of poverty in rural Rwanda, but her company has grown to become the top exporter of organic bananas in the country.

She says: “It is cheaper to grow crops organically and yet the returns on the export market are quite high. We don’t use manufactured fertilisers when growing our crops. What is more, this farming system protects our environment and health.”

Mrs Nibagwire’s manages 22 farmers who provide leadership to the different zones of farming households in the Gatore Sector of Kirehe District to ensure that they meet Floris-Rwanda’s standards of crop production. They have to maintain their plantations organically and use better farming techniques for maximum output.

In addition to fresh bananas, Nibagwire’s company exports banana wine, baby food, and champagne. The firm is also planning to export dry bananas and grow organic vegetables using greenhouses.

“Bananas grown in Rwanda are currently the best from East Africa on the European market. Following a survey based on samples taken in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania and tested in European agri-labs, our bananas have been chosen as the best for the past three years,” Mrs Nibagwire reveals.

“Our biggest challenge has been the high cost of air transportation. We currently export about one to two tonnes of organic bananas to Belgium,” she says.

In addition, Continue reading

Why empowering women is prerequisite to eradicating malnutrition?

Last Wednesday, the second global consultation on biofortification conference winded up in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. Nutrition issue was was at the center of the three-day discussion — and as many would expect it be, the situation is not pretty at all.

healthy food (Photo: Internet)

healthy food (Photo: Internet)

Some of the facts presented revealed that malnutrition is still a cause of deaths of about 45% of children under 5 years old.

The same facts went on telling that lack of essential minerals and vitamins cause major challenges on the African continent. It is estimated that 12 Africans die every minute as a result of hunger and malnutrition. And that Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world while 65% of arable land in the world is on the African continent. 80% of stunting children in the world live just in 14 countries, including 8 African countries.

And many argued that this entire shameful situation is happening due to poor performance of agriculture on the continent; given that it is the main source of livelihoods for many.

In my experience, women are the ones to deal with nutrition issues in many African countries. This means that the fact that malnutrition cases are still high, it’s an evidence that women (the ones dealing with kitchen issues) do not yet have all it takes to prepare complete diet.

It is also important to note that some people are facing malnutrition issues not because they lack food stuff, but simply because sometimes they do not have enough knowledge on nutritious food stuffs.

Once mums do not have knowledge on nutritious foods, obviously their kids become the first victims simply because they never get appropriate nutrition due to ignorance of their mums.

In my opinion, once women get educated good enough about nutrition issues and get empowered in agriculture, high chances are that they will increase their incomes from agricultural activities and will in turn spend wisely their incomes on nutrition; thus this will affect positively their kids and their families in general.

What many countries have been talking about gender equality, to me it would be wise to call it (and concentrate on) “empowering” women instead and I believe that these issues of malnutrition and hidden hunger would be eradicated completely.

Second Global Biofortification conference: Key highlights from Day Two

After a robust opening session of the second global conference on biofortification taking place in Kigali, the second day of the conference has been marked by different activities including consultative sessions where experts, policymakers and farmers got chance to share their views.

Dr Akinwumi Adesina delivering his keynote address (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Dr Akinwumi Adesina delivering his keynote address (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

The key speaker who concluded activities of the day was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

It was not the first time to follow this highly-skilled eloquent speaker – in fact, he has been key speaker in many major international conferences taking place here in Kigali for some time.

Dr Adesina highlighted the existing disconnect between rising global wealth and persistent poverty – an underlying cause of poor nutrition.

“People eat food, not GDP,” he emphasized last night in a rousing keynote address at the end of Day Two of the Global Consultation on Getting Nutritious Foods to People.

Globally recognized for his efforts in improving African agriculture through innovative technology, Dr. Adesina shared his views with participants on how malnutrition and poverty can be ended in Africa.

In his keynote address, the Nigerian minister thanked the government of Rwanda for having hosted the very important conference that took place in the country for the first time on the African continent.

“Your support for this important conference is a testimony of your exemplary leadership that President Paul Kagame continues to demonstrate in matters affecting health and welfare of good people of Rwanda, and also in Africa,” he pointed out, thanking Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr Agnes Kalibata, for co-organizing and hosting the conference

During the nearly a half hour keynote address, it was highlighted that while Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done great job in reducing global poverty, nearly 50% of the world population still live below poverty line. And Malnutrition is a cause of deaths of about 45% of children under 5 years old.

Malnutrition, especially lack of essential minerals and vitamins, noted Dr Adesina, causes major challenges on the African continent. It is estimated that 12 Africans die every minute as a result of hunger and malnutrition. Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world while65% of arable land in the world is in Africa. 80% of stunted children in the world live just in 14 countries, including 8 African countries.

“This is not a pretty picture, at all!” he pointed out. “For Africa to succeed in lifting millions of people out of poverty it should create a model of sharing wealth and prosperity, it must focus on transforming its rural economies. And the way to do this is to transform agriculture. In other words, we should make our rural economies, the new wealth economies.”

According to the Nigerian minister, a major reason for higher rural poverty and malnutrition in Africa is the poor performance of agriculture in Africa while it is the main source of livelihoods for the majority of the poor.

“To turn things around, we must stop considering agriculture as a development program, but as a business,” he said.

Dr Adena went on giving his suggestions on what can be done to turn the current situation. His suggestions include building major political will behind nutrient crops, using political leaders as nutrient champions. He also noted that Africa should focus on improving technology system delivery to farmers, especially extension services to improve the knowledge of farmers on nutrient crops.

Watch the short video below for highlights of Dr Adesina’s full speech:

OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: The 40 Chances Fellows program

Are you still aged between 18 and 39 years? Do you have innovative social enterprise plans that use strategies built on the principles of 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World ? Then, you can get a total of $150,000 to materialize your plans. Please take advantage of this opportunity!

40 chances fellowThe 40 Chances Fellows program will fund four 40 Chances Fellows with the most innovative social enterprise plans that use strategies built on the principles of 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World.  These social enterprises must seek to address issues of hunger, conflict, or poverty and may be established in any one of the following four countries where the Africa Governance Initiative has a strong presence: Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Malawi.

Each strategy must involve local leadership and management into the operations of the social enterprise by integrating local place-based ownership and relying on locally driven design, development, and deployment in its programs or services.  In addition, these enterprises should fill gaps in existing value chains, or otherwise combine a variety of complementary and existing efforts into a comprehensive and integrated approach to solve the intended challenge.

The application timeline for the fellowship runs from October 17, 2013, to May 31, 2014.  Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 39 on the date the application closes (May 31, 2014).  Winners will be selected by a blue ribbon panel of judges and formally announced at the 2014 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa.  Each of four fellows will receive $80,000 in start-up funds and $70,000 for living and transportation expenses (a total of $150,000) for one year.

During their first year of activity, fellows will be required to submit quarterly update reports to the World Food Prize.

More information on the 40 Chances Fellows website:
http://www.40chances.com/fellows/

Article originally published on the ardyis website