Rwanda: The first rains of the season are falling
in this part of Africa.
The rain is part of a weather cycle that can
make or break life in this region of the world,
depending on several factors.
Prominent among these is health - not just
people's health, but also the health
of agricultural, governmental and economic systems.
Today is World Food Day.
A couple of days ago, on October 14th,
the UN released its annual report
on global food security.
Their figures confirm that more than
one billion people - a sixth of the
world - are undernourished, and that
the number of hungry people had been
growing even before the economic crisis hit,
which has only made the situation worse.
But the report also noted that while some
poor nations are struggling to survive,
other poor nations are helping to feed them.
Despite their relative poverty, some countries,
like Rwanda, are exporting food,
while others are desperate consumers.
Rwanda's current growing season is shaping up
to be better than the last.
The past several years have seen drought
and erratic rainfall, but tens of thousands
of Rwandans have adapted with simple
and effective techniques that deliver
both nutritional, and economic, stability.
Mayange, a community of 25,000 located
one hour south of the Rwandan capital of Kigali,
recently became a net exporter of food
for the first time in decades.
It may serve as a crucible for understanding
the environmental and cultural challenges
facing Sub-Saharan Africa, and provide
insights into what can be done to combat
the rising storm of food insecurity
and economic instability in the region.
In contrast, right now an estimated
20 million Kenyans are at risk
of severe malnutrition and starvation.
Because their situation is so dire - and
because droughts like the one Kenya
is experiencing could happen to any nation
in the region at any given time,
it's critical to closely examine projects
that are bearing fruit.
These need scaling up to serve the hundreds
of millions in Africa who desperately
need them - and the food security
they provide - right now, today.
Just four years ago, Mayange was synonymous
with abject poverty.
Located at the very epicenter of the 1994 genocide,
its people were hardened, uncooperative,
and when I began working there in October 2005,
starving to death.
Back in the 1960s, the government of Rwanda
forcefully relocated mainly Tutsis to Mayange
and its environs due to the unwelcoming
The resourceful inhabitants chopped down
nearly all the trees and provided Kigali
with charcoal for decades.
After the trees fell, they productively produced
maize and beans until the soil fell down
the hillsides into the valleys.
The stage was set for the 1990s, which saw
both murder and decreasing rainfall
(a condition seen across East Africa).
By 2005, Mayange was a backwater - a favorite
for charity involvement given the food needs,
but an apparently hopeless case.
The government of Rwanda recognized
radical approaches were needed.
They identified Mayange as the site
of the Millennium Villages project for Rwanda
and gave the team a tall order: prove
your methods and we'll adopt them
at national scale.
Our initial work involved basics: distributing
emergency food, improving health facilities,
and working with local government
on agriculture plans.
We worked alongside the national government
which was expanding its efforts to get
basic services to people - roads, electricity,
water, education and health.
During the first two years,
the community banded together.
They transformed the landscape
with progressive terraces along the hillside,
where tens of thousands of nitrogen-fixing
trees and new, drought-resistant crops
Field trials determined which crops would
have the kind of staying power needed in dry,
In the end, a diversified mix of beans, maize,
cassava, home vegetables,
and fast-growing fruit trees provided
steady and dependable food sources,
which led the way to real stability
for the first time in decades.
The start of the rainy season is usually
one of the hungriest times of the year.
Yet in the formerly hopeless enclave
of Mayange, there are 50-80 metric tons of maize
and beans for every 5,000 people,
stored by the local government.
This surpasses the wildest estimates
of local officials, who three years ago
dreamt of splitting that same quantity
among 25,000 people.
Across Africa, the Millennium Villages project
has demonstrated that food scarcity
can be all but vanquished if the required
resource management, investment
and political will are available.
On this World Food Day, the lesson
for Kenya and others is simple: get
the basics right.
Only in this way can agricultural communities
attain the food stability and security
that maintains people's health.
Just as drought can destroy health,
economic, and even political systems,
an abundant amount of crops
and accompanying wealth can take
communities beyond mere subsistence,
enabling them to build long-term prosperity.
Follow Josh Ruxin
on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@JoshRuxin
Sent from Kigali, Rwanda