Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Got Milk Lessons? Key Take-Aways from Dairy Projects in Rwanda

In 2006, the Government of Rwanda (GoR) decided that enabling its rural population to scale up dairy development could be the key to unlocking the country’s untapped potential for economic growth. That was the year that the GoR launched an ambitious national program called the “One Cow per Poor Family” initiative. Part of the national poverty reduction strategy, the initiative’s aim was to scale-up livestock restocking programs by gifting about 350,000 households with in-calf heifers by 2017. While this was an exciting and worthwhile endeavor, the initiative’s challenges sparked a mini-revolution in the way we approach dairy and livestock in international development today. Since June is Dairy Month, I want to journey back to 2006 and USAID’s Rwanda Dairy Sector Competitiveness Project to share the key lessons we learned from that experiment.

To get to where you want to go, you have to understand your starting point.

Since the GoR selected poor families with no dairy management experience, livestock experts knew this initiative could be disastrous if recipients didn’t receive appropriate training. Consequently, selected individuals received training in general husbandry practices, calf management and milk handling, as well as improved family nutrition. In return, families that received heifers passed on the first born to another selected family, and so on. With support mainly coming from the local government, NGOs, parastatals and bilateral partners, the program had placed more than 220,000 cows to an equivalent number of families by the end of 2014, challenges notwithstanding.

 Ruth Dusanbe attributes her improved welfare to adopting best dairy farming practices. Photo Credit: Land O' Lakes IDD

Infrastructure matters.

More cows. More milk. Less poverty. Good, good and good. However, GoR’s support to smallholder dairy farming had a few unintended consequences, too. For starters, the program actually catalyzed the creation of gaps in the milk marketing chain. Rwanda had more milk, but it didn’t have a way to transport it from the poorer, rural areas to the capital city Kigali. Products are only as strong as the markets at which they are sold, particularly for one that can easily perish without adequate, prompt chilling. Luckily, identified early on, this gap resulted in GoR embarking in 2008 on yet another ambitious program building Milk Collection Centers to provide milk aggregation points in rural areas before the milk is transported to Rwanda’s capital Kigali, constructing and equipping up to 96 collection centers with an average 2,500 liter capacity by 2014. Typically managed by farmer cooperatives, these centers have become a hive of economic activity, and help facilitate group marketing for smallholder dairy farmers. Cooperative activity has helped build group resilience and enabled them to overcome market challenges.

Build solid public-private partnerships to create change that transforms lives.

USAID has worked with Land O’Lakes International Development to support two consecutive dairy projects in Rwanda (Rwanda Dairy Sector Competitiveness Projects I and II). The second and current program works across the entire dairy chain and focuses on four keys areas of intervention:

  1. Enabling policy environment
  2. Dairy farmer productivity
  3. Milk quality
  4. End market consumption of milk and milk products

In 2013, we worked closely with Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture to produce the National Dairy Strategy (NDS). This has become the guiding document for dairy development in Rwanda.  Additionally, the project has focused attention on the importance of maintaining milk quality through the adoption of best milk handling practices guided by ministerial instructions. It’s also raising awareness of milk and dairy product consumption through a national milk consumption campaign called Shisha Wumva, whichliterally means, “feel the goodness”. The campaign supports GoR’s objective of doubling milk consumption—as stipulated in the NDS—from 40 liters per capita to 80 liters by 2018.

By the way, it’s important to note that NDS emphasizes the role of the MCCs as official consolidation points for milk from communities before it reaches the market. These MCCs are critical for value chain development because they provide milk quality control points, group marketing, and a quality point of purchase for individuals without cows who live in their immediate proximity. I believe this market-led approach—and the initial opportunity to collaborate with GoR on the NDS—greatly facilitated our project’s interventions to complement and enhance already-existing public initiatives, including the one cow per poor family program and the MCC infrastructure support program, as mentioned above.

Share knowledge. Keep Growing. Keep learning.

Looking back, it has been a rewarding period for the entire dairy sector on many levels right from the dairy producer to the dairy consumer. That’s exactly the kind of change that transforms lives! Do you work in the dairy industry? If so, please use the comments section below to tell me some of your experiences and lessons learned.